LOT 128

1879 - 1915

oil on canvas, circa 1910
22 1/4 x 20 7/8 in, 56.5 x 53 cm

Estimate: $60,000 - $80,000 CAD

Sold for: $109,250

Preview at:

Private Collection, Minnesota
Fine Canadian Art, Heffel Fine Art Auction House, May 22, 2008, lot 67
Private Collection, Toronto

Natalie Luckyj, Helen McNicoll: A Canadian Impressionist, Art Gallery of Ontario, 1999, page 42

Helen McNicoll’s contribution to art in Canada was immense. This was delightfully apparent at the Art Gallery of Ontario recently, where the exhibition Cassatt – McNicoll: Impressionists Between Worlds highlighted depictions of modern womanhood and the development of the Impressionist movement in North America. McNicoll was born into a privileged Montreal family, and though she came from an advantaged background, she faced adversity from health challenges. Her family was pivotal, providing a stimulating and supportive environment in which her artistic talent could flourish.

Under the tutelage of William Brymner, McNicoll enrolled in 1902 at the Slade School of Art. Her London residence was near the Slade and the British Museum as well as important commercial galleries, where it is assumed she would have viewed important exhibitions of the French Impressionists. In 1906, she went to St. Ives, one of the leading art colonies in England, and attended classes led by Algernon Talmage. She was inspired by the teachings of Talmage and her passion for painting en plein air blossomed, resulting in a body of work that consistently adheres to Talmage’s adage to seek “sunshine in the shadows.”

While some of her colleagues were perusing the grand boulevards of Paris and London, capturing modern city life, McNicoll was focused on creating works such as Orchard, an idyllic retreat in the countryside, where the quiet beauty of nature reigns. In this magnificent work, the dappled brush-strokes and light and shadow demonstrate her purist tendencies that pushed Impressionism forward. The inherent naturalism of the trees and low-keyed colour tonalities employed in Orchard are reminiscent of both The Hague and Barbizon schools, yet McNicoll’s treatment of the subject is distinctly Impressionist.

This painting was created two years after McNicoll was honoured with the prestigious Jessie Dow Prize in 1908. Further accolades and acclaim would follow, thus securing her highly esteemed reputation within the Montreal art scene. Canvases such as this one are exceedingly rare, a product of a career that was much too short-lived.

Estimate: $60,000 - $80,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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