1865 - 1924
Young Girl in Capri
oil on canvas on board
on verso titled Young Girl in Venice on the Continental Galleries label, inscribed "M121" faintly and stamped F.R. Heaton Estate
13 1/8 x 8 in, 33.3 x 20.3 cm
Estimate: $40,000 - $60,000 CAD
Sold for: $46,250
W.M. Scott & Sons, Montreal
Estate of F.R. Heaton
Continental Galleries of Fine Art, Montreal
Important Canadian Art and Fine Jewellery, Sotheby's Canada, May 27, 1985, lot 767
Acquired from the above by a Private Collection, USA
G. Blair Laing, Memoirs of an Art Dealer 2, 1982, a circa 1902 drawing entitled A Brittany Girl reproduced plate 25, page 68
Portrait or model studies by James Wilson Morrice, better known for his atmospheric landscapes, count for less than seven per cent of his total ouput, and their appearance on the market is rare. The artist produced them in bursts of creativity rather than consistently. And it is almost by chance, during his first trip to Italy, that he started to paint people from a close-up point of view, an interest perhaps ignited by a young woman who, we guess, traveled with him. She appears in both Venice and Capri, as well as in France, with her hair worn in a tight bun attached high at the back. Unfortunately, we do not know her name or nationality, not even exactly what she looked like—we see her only from the back, in profile, or in three-quarter views.
Morrice’s other models were mostly children, quickly drawn in the two sketchbooks he brought with him (one dispersed, one still intact); they wear the local costume—a blouse and skirt, plus an apron and a scarf crossed over the bust. One girl in particular, aged about ten, got the artist’s attention, and he painted her first standing at a belvedere (in a private collection) and twice sitting in a matching reddish-brown blouse and skirt, framed by the local vegetation (a flowering shrub at left, an intertwined vine at right). One of these works, Seated Girl in a Brown Blouse (private collection, Joyner, May 15, 1990) shows her in profile, in a three-quarter view, while our portrait focuses on her face, rendered very softly and tenderly. She is also the subject of a delicate close-up, drawn on a detached sheet from the dispersed sketchbook, titled A Brittany Girl, reproduced in the G. Blair Laing book Memoirs of an Art Dealer 2.
In Young Girl in Capri, the girl sits in the shade; in the profile version, Seated Girl in a Brown Blouse, there is more space between her and the pale yellow background. Thanks to an 1890 painting by Marie Egner, A Cloister in Capri, with a similar but complete decor, we can imagine her on the steps leading up to the walkway of a pergola, a very common feature on the Isle of Capri. Many visiting artists enjoyed painting people sitting under their flowering canopies among thick columns, but not Morrice, who was more interested in focusing on the girl who had captured his attention. A Venetian address in the intact sketchbook (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Dr.1973.35, end page) dates the drawings from before or early in 1895; because of this, and on stylistic grounds, we currently date the Italian trip to 1894. A careful study of the Italian drawings and paintings suggests that, very early in that spring, Morrice left his home in Paris for Venice. The weather was still cold under grey skies, so he crossed over via Naples to Capri, where he stayed long enough to witness the greening of the trees. Perhaps too long, since he never went back, while he did return at least six more times to Venice, but always in summer...
We thank Lucie Dorais for contributing the above essay. This work will be included in Dorais’s forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work.
Estimate: $40,000 - $60,000 CAD
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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