LOT 004

1935 - 2022

August 1939
oil on board
signed and dated 1985 and on verso signed, titled and dated 1974 - 1985
20 1/8 x 50 in, 51.1 x 127 cm

Estimate: $125,000 - $175,000 CAD

Sold for: $361,250

Preview at:

Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto
Private Collection, Vancouver

Christopher Pratt completed August 1939 in 1985, a notable year in the artist’s long and distinguished career. Already well established and well known, he was celebrated with the nationally touring exhibition Christopher Pratt: A Retrospective (Vancouver Art Gallery, Art Gallery of Ontario, Memorial University Art Gallery, Dalhousie Art Gallery). This mid-career exhibition allowed audiences across Canada to become more familiar with his signature approach to image making. Underlining the distinctive style and consistency of Pratt’s work over decades, August 1939 also echoed another painting in the exhibition, House in August of 1969 (sold by Heffel November 21, 2018).

Domestic architecture from his beloved Newfoundland was a prime interest in Pratt’s paintings, drawings and screenprints. If he suggests in his artwork that the personal and everyday is crucially important in our lives, then we understand why this vernacular theme consistently inspired him. Houses are as personal as they are commonplace. Their everydayness is important—this is not a unique “architect’s house”—but so is the mystery with which Pratt imbues August 1939. The seasonal reference is easy to acknowledge: strong shadows from window mullions on the partly lowered shades of the windows—and to the left side of the house—suggest early afternoon or late morning during summer. But why did he specify 1939? We can speculate along a range of implications, from an early childhood memory (Pratt was born in 1935) to a world event such as the Nazi-Soviet pact in that month that allowed Germany to overrun Poland soon after. Perhaps the house was built in that year. Pratt does not tell us, and the house is, of course, mute, which is to say, receptive to our imaginings.

August 1939 conveys harmony, balance and precision, yet the longer one contemplates the painting, the more mysterious it seems, though always in a benevolent way. The rigorous visual order that Pratt insists on may be reassuring at first, but an unnatural perfection can also seem strange. August 1939 turns out to be a puzzle that we can enjoy deciphering. The shades are partly raised on the lower two windows, allowing us to see reflections of large trees behind what must be the artist’s and viewer’s position. But we see no people. The carefully gradated blue of this glass is calibrated to harmonize with the palette chosen for the water, just as the modulated yellows and oranges of the foreground grasses are echoed in the yellow of the house and the green of its window frames. A coloured pencil and graphite study for this painting reveals how Pratt worked out the geometry of what we see. The drawing, however, is replete with details, including shrubbery around the house. These Pratt edits out to achieve the characteristic hyper-simplicity and directness of his final painting.

We see in this drawing that Pratt has already made a formal decision that greatly adds to the mystery of the work: the top of the house is cropped, suggesting that this is not an architectural rendering per se but more a study of form, set simply and elegantly amidst grass, sky and ocean. Pratt’s unusual design prevents the image from becoming predictable or as straightforward as it at first appears.

We thank Mark A. Cheetham, author of Alex Colville: The Observer Observed and Remembering Postmodernism: Trends in Canadian Art, 1970 - 1990, for contributing the above essay. He is a professor of art history at the University of Toronto and a freelance curator and art writer.

Estimate: $125,000 - $175,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

Although great care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information posted, errors and omissions may occur. All bids are subject to our Terms and Conditions of Business. Bidders must ensure they have satisfied themselves with the condition of the Lot prior to bidding. Condition reports are available upon request.