LOT 110

1890 - 1945

Winter in the Woods
oil on board, circa 1917
on verso inscribed "05-2-B" and stamped Estate of Franklin Carmichael
8 1/8 x 10 in, 20.6 x 25.4 cm

Estimate: $50,000 - $70,000 CAD

Sold for: $157,250

Preview at:

Estate of the Artist, Toronto
Ada Carmichael, wife of the Artist, Toronto
By descent within the family of the Artist
A.K. Prakash & Associates, Toronto, 2010
Private Collection, Toronto

This painting is a superb example of Franklin Carmichael’s early mature work, one that shows the fluid and indelible interrelation between an artist, their peers and the artistic movements of their time. Based on similar examples, this work was likely produced in the period between Carmichael’s return from abroad in 1914 and the Group of Seven’s first exhibition in 1920, whose centennial we celebrate this year. In 1913, seeking an education he felt was unavailable in Toronto, Carmichael enrolled at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, at the recommendation of his colleagues Arthur Lismer and Frederick Varley. Importantly, the academy provided its students with a classical training, but also encouraged them to work outside the studio. The aesthetics of Belgium, the birthplace of Art Nouveau, had a lasting influence on Carmichael’s style. Subtle notes of this movement can be read here in the modernism of his brushwork, and it is much more evident in his larger works of the period.

Via connections from his fiancée, Ada Went, and through Lismer, after studying in Belgium, Carmichael began a brief stay in England. There he was exposed to the two British titans of light, J.M.W. Turner and John Constable. Their engagement with the natural effects of light and atmosphere opened new avenues of expression for the young artist. Combined with the influences from Antwerp, this exposure laid the foundations for Carmichael’s distinctive voice seen here. However, the outbreak of World War I curtailed his time abroad, and he returned to Toronto.

The impact of Carmichael’s circle of friends then came to the fore. The fall and winter of 1914 to 1915 was undoubtedly important, for the artist became a resident of the recently completed Studio Building in Toronto, along with his friend and former colleague Tom Thomson. Carmichael’s senior by more than 12 years, Thomson had never been overseas, but he had been brought up to speed on modern streams of contemporary painting by A.Y. Jackson the year before. Thomson was approaching the pinnacle of his abilities, and had begun a series of forest snow studies that would include Snow in the Woods, 1916 (figure 1), now in the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. Thomson’s influence can be readily seen in our painting in the bold gestures of the paint’s application, though the expression is entirely Carmichael’s.

Another emergent influence of the period came from two more of Carmichael’s companions. After meeting J.E.H. MacDonald at his exhibition of small works at Toronto’s Arts and Letters Club in 1911, Lawren Harris became further convinced of the necessity of a fresh approach to the Canadian landscape. A crucial catalyst for this exploration was the exhibition at Buffalo’s Albright Art Gallery entitled Exhibition of Contemporary Scandinavian Art. There, in January of 1913, Harris and MacDonald were confronted with expressive, bold, modernist depictions of the wild landscapes that surrounded the Scandinavian artists. It was evidence that artists need not go elsewhere to seek inspiration – it could be all around them. Their responsibility lay only in developing the means to express the landscape’s particular resonance. What resulted were canvases such as Harris’s Snow, Algonquin Park, 1915 (figure 2), in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario. It clearly expresses the goals he set out to achieve, and Carmichael’s interpretation of this solitary poetry is present in this work as well.

When viewed on its own, Winter in the Woods is a beautiful and intimate example from the outset of Carmichael’s prominent career. When placed within a larger context, it is a prime vehicle for understanding the confluence of movements and styles that propelled the evolution of the Group of Seven, whose complementary visions would then go on to influence each other. What remains for us today are artworks such as this one, still celebrated a century later.

Estimate: $50,000 - $70,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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