LOT 016

1910 - 2010

Iceberg, Grise Fiord
oil on canvas, 1976
signed and on verso inscribed "760513"
36 x 48 in, 91.4 x 121.9 cm

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

Sold for: $61,250

Preview at:

Acquired directly from the Artist by a Private Collector, British Columbia, 1976

William Moore and Stuart Reid, Celebrating Life: The Art of Doris McCarthy, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 1999, pages 55 and 199

Doris McCarthy studied at the Ontario College of Art from 1926 to 1930, under Group of Seven artists Arthur Lismer and J.E.H. MacDonald. She met Lawren Harris and visited his studio in 1928, at a time when his simplification and purification of form and commitment to a theosophical vision of the landscape were firmly established. The Group caused a storm of change in the art world at this time, and her work was influenced by their groundbreaking art.

From a young age McCarthy had a love for nature. Her father, George McCarthy, was an early conservationist who taught her that nature was an important part of her heritage. As a consequence, she was drawn to the landscape as her artistic focus. In 1939, she acquired land on the edge of the Scarborough Bluffs overlooking Lake Ontario. She called the house she built there Fool’s Paradise, and it became her lifetime home and studio. She also purchased, collectively with a group of women, Keyhole Cottage on Georgian Bay, as a summer painting base. McCarthy often took painting trips to locations such as Haliburton and the Gaspé Peninsula and many other places in Ontario and Quebec, as well as Newfoundland, the Yukon, the Arctic and the Rockies. She also painted in England, Ireland, the Netherlands and New Zealand. McCarthy had an irrepressible energy; as well as maintaining a teaching career and painting landscapes across Canada and internationally, she maintained a busy exhibition schedule.

In 1972, she made her first trip to the Arctic. She joined the Federation of Ontario Naturalists for a week, flying from Resolute to Eureka, Grise Fiord and remote islands, followed by Pond Inlet. McCarthy commented, “In my first year in the Arctic I met my very first iceberg and I went crazy about icebergs and started doing ice form fantasies.” Many trips to the North would follow, her last taking place in 2004, at the age of 94. In 1976, the year she painted this stunning canvas, she returned to Grise Fiord via Frobisher Bay.

McCarthy was part of the valiant (mostly male) Canadian plein air tradition of braving the cold to paint on the spot. She dressed for temperatures as low as 15 to 20 degrees below zero, in layers of pants, a thick down parka over a hooded T-shirt, wool toque and a cotton sun hat. Seated before her canvas and easel with paints and turpentine, preparing to make an oil sketch, she kept her tube of titanium white pigment malleable by keeping it inside her clothes. She was intrepid—Paul Gooch related that on a painting trip to Baffin Island, they visited Inuit homes and workshops and “chewed our first hunk of blubber.”

In works like this she is clearly influenced by Harris’s dramatic vision of arctic mountains and icebergs from the 1930s, evidenced in the abstracted forms. As mentioned, McCarthy called her arctic works “ice form fantasies,” and here we see that manifested in this imaginative scene. A solid, sculpted white iceberg form shadowed by blues and greens towers above the water, while in the foreground an ice shelf and another pointed form float, their underwater existence suggested by shimmering shapes in the water. These forms and the mountain behind are hard-edged and jagged, creating strong impressions of volume. The berg forms are struck by an unseen light source, their white shining brilliantly against the darkness behind.

Especially intriguing is the transparent form in between the bergs. Painted in delicate shades of mauve and blue, it is like an insubstantial memory of a berg, or a dream of one. As William Moore writes, “We are involved in a continuum of an event…We experience her perceptions stretched over time. They are composites of mental sketches of the perception (note: indesign - italic in quote) of icebergs synthesized into the idea (note: indesign - italics in quote) of an iceberg.” Dream or memory, this transparent berg pulls us to another dimension of the landscape, one connected with the subconscious. Iceberg, Grise Fiord is an outstanding example of McCarthy’s arctic paintings, both powerful and poetic.

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

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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