LOT 129

1882 - 1974

Great Bear Lake
oil on canvas
32 x 40 in, 81.3 x 101.6 cm

Estimate: $250,000 - $350,000 CAD

Sold for: $301,250

Preview at:

Acquired directly from the Artist by a Private Collector, Montreal
By descent to a Private Collection, Georgia
Fine Canadian Art, Heffel Fine Art Auction House, May 22, 2008, lot 106
Private Collection, Toronto

Naomi Jackson Groves, A.Y.’s Canada, 1968, page 208
Dennis Reid, Alberta Rhythm: The Later Work of A.Y. Jackson, Art Gallery of Ontario, 1982, page 28

A.Y. Jackson’s first trip to Great Bear Lake took place in 1938. Gilbert La Bine arranged for Jackson to be flown to his Eldorado Mine at Port Radium, where the artist spent six weeks exploring and painting the surrounding countryside. Ten years earlier Jackson had been as far north as Yellowknife, and expressed a yearning to see the country further north. Ever the intrepid explorer, Jackson remarked, “I guess I am a compass, always heading north. I really do belong to the caribou country, not to the cow country.”

Great Bear Lake is 12,029 square miles in area and stretches out arms in five different directions. This region, which so intrigued Jackson, was formed during the last retreat of the polar ice cap about ten thousand years ago and is filled with innumerable lakes, rocky hills, patches of spruce and small birch trees. Thrilled by the vast scale of the country, Jackson wrote to his niece, “The skies are far away, and everything that takes place does it over a thousand square miles.” This raw and vital northern land so enthralled Jackson that he returned in 1949, 1950, 1951 and 1959. In 1949, he landed in Port Radium with artist Maurice Haycock, and in 1950, at Port Radium again, he explored the Barrens and camped near Teshierpi Mountain, in the Kitikmeot region. In 1951, from Great Bear Lake he traveled with John Rennie farther northeast along the Coppermine River to the September Mountains and west to Hunter Bay. After landing in Port Radium in 1959, he explored Hornby Bay and Atnick Lake, then went on to Lac Rouvière in the Barrens.

Here, characteristic of Jackson’s best work around Great Bear Lake, are the lines of uniquely shaped trees silhouetted in the foreground and background. The ground is a rich tapestry of ancient molded rocks covered with lichens and mosses in a vibrant palette of pink, mauve, yellow, red and pale green. Jackson’s vision of this landscape incorporates a wonderful sense of texture and rhythm in the land. All the elements have a gentle undulating movement—from the streaks of clouds in the sky to the trunks of the trees to the rock formations at the shores of the brilliantly coloured lake. A high overcast sky lets in a yellow-green light that sparkles across the water and delicately illuminates the scene. An engaging feature of this fine painting is the presence of two caribou roaming on the far shore and the discarded antlers in the foreground.

In his travels around Canada, Jackson sought to capture the very essence of the land wherever he went, and in this very large and impressive canvas he communicates the wildness and openness stretching off into a great distance. Dennis Reid asserts that the “three successive journeys to Great Bear Lake and the Barren Lands resulted in some of the finest sketches of Jackson’s career. Viewed as a group, they are unrivalled. The primeval nature of the landscape appealed to him, with its vigorous mid-summer life clinging tenaciously to the margins of existence. Nothing extraneous survives. Fundamental values seem clear.”

Estimate: $250,000 - $350,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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