LOT 118

1882 - 1974

Ontario Mining Town, Cobalt
oil on canvas, 1933
signed and on verso signed, titled and titled Ontario Mining Town, dated incorrectly 1935 and on the exhibition label 1933, inscribed "O.S.A. 1933" and with various numbers and stamped twice with the Dominion Gallery stamp
21 x 28 1/4 in, 53.3 x 71.8 cm

Estimate: $550,000 - $650,000 CAD

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

Dominion Gallery, Montreal, 1946
Ingersoll-Rand Co. Ltd. Corporate Collection, Montreal, 1947
Sold sale of Important Canadian Art, Sotheby's Canada in association with Ritchie's, November 19, 2007, lot 250
Private Collection, Toronto

Canadian Group of Painters, Heinz Art Salon, 1933, reproduced
A.Y. Jackson, A Painter’s Country: The Autobiography of A.Y. Jackson, 1976, pages 141 and 156
Charlie Angus and Brit Griffin, We Lived a Life and Then Some: The Life, Death, and Life of a Mining Town, 1996, pages 17, 19 and 20
Paul O’Keeffe, Some Sort of Genius: A Life of Wyndham Lewis, 2001, page 430
Michael Gordon, Rockhound: An Experience of the North, 2015, page 128

Heinz Art Salon, Atlantic City, Canadian Group of Painters, June - October 1933, titled as Ontario Mining Town, catalogue #25
Art Gallery of Toronto, Canadian Group of Painters, November 1933, titled as Ontario Mining Town, catalogue #40
Art Association of Montreal, Canadian Group of Painters, January 1 - 21, 1934, titled as Ontario Mining Town, catalogue #33
McMaster University, Hamilton, Canadian Group of Painters, February 7 - 27, 1934, catalogue #15
Dominion Gallery, Montreal, A.Y. Jackson: Thirty Years of Painting, May 4 – 18, 1946, dated as 1935, catalogue #12

In the first decade of the twentieth century, Cobalt, Ontario, was to silver what the Klondike had been to gold a few years earlier. In 1903, two rail workers scouting the route of the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway discovered a vein of greyish-white rock in the hardscrabble terrain. So began what the Canadian Magazine five years later called “Cobalt fever.” By 1906, more than 20 silver mines were in operation, and the demand for stock in Cobalt’s many start-ups was so strong that on one occasion the New York police were called to break up rioting crowds on Wall Street.

Ultimately 100 mines would open around Cobalt, and by the outbreak of the First World War, its population had grown to 10,000. The foundations were dug for an opera hall and a stock exchange, the T&NO Railway laid on a Millionaires Express, and the New York Times claimed that Cobalt had “all the sensations of the most modern city on the continent.” But the prosperity vanished by the 1920s as the silver reserves were depleted and a new gold boom drew investors to Porcupine Lake, Ontario.

By the time A.Y. Jackson first arrived in Cobalt with his friend Dr. Frederick Banting, around the time of his fiftieth birthday in October 1932, the town’s population had shrunk drastically and only a few small mines were left to prospect the exhausted terrain amid fires and cave-ins. “The palmy days were over,” as Jackson observed. However, this picturesquely ramshackle town with its rearing headframes and glacier-like tailings had already attracted and inspired his friends Franklin Carmichael, Yvonne McKague Housser and Isabel McLaughlin. Jackson would return to paint and sketch a second time in 1935, and works from these expeditions are in both the National Gallery of Canada (Cobalt, Ontario, 1932) and the Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario (Autumn, Cobalt, Ontario, 1935).

Jackson found in Cobalt the same workaday charm that delighted him in Quebec villages such as La Malbaie and Saint-Hilarion, whose wintry portraits, complete with rustic homes, parish churches, and horse-drawn sleighs traversing undulating roads, he was painting during these same years. Ontario Mining Town, Cobalt features the headframes and trestles of the disused mines, as well as small, brightly painted shanties and shopfronts. Any impressions of poverty or desolation are offset by the alluring colours—in particular by (appropriately enough) cobalt-based pigments. McLaughlin once told Jackson that he used cobalt violet in all his paintings, and liberal touches are found here, including gentle swipes in the snow along one of the sagging rooftops. Even more profuse are his mixtures of cobalt blue in the folds of the tailings and on the central headframe, which rises above the town like one of the steeples in his Quebec canvases. A corner of one of Jackson’s other views of Cobalt including his blues and violets (in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario) appears in the upper right in his friend Wyndham Lewis’s 1941 portrait of J. Stanley McLean of Canada Packers (in a private collection)—intended, as Jackson observed, to bring “a note of colour” into the portrait.

There are many beautiful notes of colour here, as Jackson fondly depicts the defiance of the small population of survivors who, as he wrote, “stayed on, subsisting somehow,” long after prosperity left this “Dawson City of the east.”

We thank Ross King, author of The Judgement of Paris and Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven, for contributing the above essay.

We thank Charles C. Hill for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.

Estimate: $550,000 - $650,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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