Maurice Galbraith Cullen
1866 - 1934
oil on canvas
signed and titled Mount Girouard on a plaque and on verso certified by Cullen Inventory #406
28 x 22 1/2 in 71.1 x 57.1 cm
Estimate: $70,000 - $90,000
Sold for: $105,300
Preview at: Heffel Vancouver
Galerie Walter Klinkhoff Inc., Montreal
Private Collection, Ontario
William R. Watson, Retrospective: Recollections of a Montreal Art Dealer, 1974, pages 30 and 37
Maurice Cullen is beloved as one of Canada’s early Impressionist painters. Fortunate to train in Paris in 1888 and 1889, he knew many of the leading artists of the day. In Canada, however, his fortunes were never secure and he often (as was the case with most artists at the time) had trouble supporting himself. Upon his election to the Royal Canadian Academy in 1899 his finances generally improved, and he found a steady dealer and close friend in William Watson. In his memoirs, Watson tells us a great deal about Cullen as a painter, and also describes the artist’s philosophy: “I found it very much akin to that of Emerson or Thoreau, especially in his love of nature. I think I would describe him as a transcendental-pantheist; he would often admit to me how profound and all-embracing this love of nature was. ‘One justification for living,’ he would say, ‘is the understanding and love of beauty.’”
Cullen was considered quite a radical in his day, a groundbreaker in terms of his loose, ‘gut-feeling’ approach. He was an avid outdoorsman and would hike or snowshoe as required to reach remote scenery, often camping in the woods to work. In the 1920s he built a cabin on the shores of Lac Tremblant in the Laurentians, at which he spent months painting in relative solitude. While he employed many impressionistic techniques, using lighter colours and paying attention to qualities of atmosphere and feeling, he was also careful to observe what he saw as the ‘Canadian-ness’ of the landscape – painting strong lines where the mountains were rugged, swirling snow when he observed blizzards, and the deeper tones of endless dark forests of pine and spruce.
In addition to Watson, Cullen also caught the eye of Sir William Van Horne, president of the Canadian Pacific Railway and an early collector of European Impressionism, as well as works by many of Canada’s early artists. Cullen made one trip to the Banff area of Alberta in the summer of 1930, accompanied by Mrs. Cullen and Watson, and executed a number of vibrant works depicting the region including this painting of Mount Norquay, a mountain just outside of the town of Banff and adjacent to the newly laid rail lines. There is likely a connection between the location depicted in this work and Cullen’s friendship with Van Horne. Banff was a railway town, settled after the lines were completed, and Van Horne reproduced paintings by some of Canada’s earliest landscape painters in the promotional materials made to attract visitors to the region. Cullen’s approach, and his love of plein air painting, would have suited this kind of partnership well.
Cullen was a master when depicting the various whites of snow and subtleties that could convey the idea of cold weather. He believed unfailingly in the importance of painting out of doors. His brighter blues are true to the blue of glacially fed mountain rivers and darker where the rivers have their sources in eastern lakes. Watson further remarks: “His compositional lines have a classic restraint, yet his loaded, well-nourished brush-stroke has, at times, the energy and fury of Van [sic] Gogh. In his running streams and tumbling waters of the spring breakup, where a smooth apron of water flows over the rapids, the technical handling echoes the excitement of the scene. Cullen loved the joyous flashes of sunlight, the glow of snow, the gleam of ice, the tumult of the freed river in springtime, and he set down his impressions with an infectious gusto. He taught us to see beauty where we had only thought of cold.”
Estimate: $70,000 - $90,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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