LOT 129

1877 - 1917

Lady on the Beach
oil on canvas, circa 1908 - 1910
signed and on verso titled Woman on Beach, dated Before 1910 and inscribed "Tom Thomson" and indistinctly on a label
12 x 11 in, 30.5 x 27.9 cm

Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000 CAD

Sold for: $145,250

Preview at:

Estate of the Artist
Elizabeth Thomson Harkness, Annan and Owen Sound
Jessie M. Fisk, Owen Sound
Important Canadian Art, Sotheby's Canada, May 14, 1984, lot 97
Private Collection, Ontario
Important Canadian Art, Sotheby's Canada in association with Ritchie's, May 28, 2007, lot 139, titled as Woman on Beach
The Art Emporium, Vancouver
Private Collection, California

Tom Thomson Memorial Gallery and Museum of Fine Art, Owen Sound, Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, May 1967, catalogue #10, titled as Portrait of a Lady
Tom Thomson Memorial Gallery and Museum of Fine Art, Owen Sound, The Tom Thomson Memorial Exhibition, May 4 - June 1, 1977, catalogue #21

In Tom Thomson’s charming Lady on the Beach, a young woman in white gracefully reads a book as she sits by the shores of a lake. The image may seem surprising for the individual who painted it, the legendary hero of Canadian art who famously painted in Algonquin Park, but it is Thomson before Tom Thomson. The artist was not yet fully formed as the painter known and even loved by many Canadians. Then we notice the lake extending behind the woman, the clouds and the foliage along the bottom and right side of the work, thoughtfully and in places powerfully portrayed, and we realize it is Tom Thomson after all, beginning to find his path as he developed his masterly technique.

The “Lady” is painted partly from imagination, partly from actuality. Thomson used the iconic representation of Charles Dana Gibson's “Gibson girl” for the face, hair and dress of the woman, as he had many times before in both drawings and paintings from his earliest days as a commercial artist in the United States. But now, Thomson used a different medium—oil paint—and he perhaps found it problematic, demanding of a different approach. In Lady on the Beach, the woman holds a book, a feature of many paintings of the period—when novels had secured a feminine reading public—but more importantly, she is seated out of doors. It is this dichotomy of elements—Thomson’s previous graphic design work combined with a new relationship to nature—that makes Lady on the Beach a fascinating study.

Thomson painted Lady on the Beach sometime after he joined the highly competitive advertising firm of Grip Ltd. in Toronto around 1909. He had worked in firms in Seattle and Toronto before Grip, most notably Legg Brothers in Toronto, where he was a senior artist, but Grip was the leading commercial art house of its day, at least in Toronto. At Grip, he seems to have been regarded as a man at the lowest rank and given boring, menial tasks to do, such as handling the Ben-Day machine and filling in dots on illustrations to be published. It took Thomson a long time to make friends and, recalled the art director Albert Robson, time to build common ground with the other members of the art staff, such as the senior designer—the highly trained and skilful J.E.H. MacDonald, later a member of the Group of Seven.

Thomson wanted to prove himself a worthy member of the team. He had little training as an artist—perhaps night classes at an artist’s studio—but would have followed advice given to the art staff by Robson, who desired fresh Canadian imagery for advertisements. He told them to go into the countryside on weekends and paint what they saw.

Lady on the Beach is the result, part of a process of decision-making and renewal on Thomson’s part. The viewer here sees Thomson at a crossroads, inching towards the momentous and as yet, far distant decision to become a “real” artist, but at first making landscape part of his work. Lady on the Beach is therefore a work poised at the beginning of the Thomson that we know of today as an artist transfixed by nature.

“All early work has to be destroyed,” opined abstract artist Ron Bloore, and many artists rid their work of its beginnings. Thomson enthusiasts can only be glad that this early work was saved for the light it casts on the real Thomson, and his progress as an artist. He may have taken it home to show his family in Owen Sound. When he died, it formed a part of his estate, and through an older sister descended to Thomson’s niece, Jessie M. Fisk, from whose estate it reached a private collector in California, who has treasured it until today.

We thank Joan Murray, former curator of Canadian art and chief curator (1972) at the Art Gallery of Ontario, for contributing the above essay. Murray helped to bring the paintings of Tom Thomson to world attention through a series of exhibitions and seven books, including a biography (the most recent is A Treasury of Tom Thomson). Murray is the author of the Tom Thomson Catalogue Raisonné.

This work is included in Thomson's catalogue raisonné as #1908.23 and can be viewed at http://www.tomthomsoncatalogue.org/catalogue/entry.php?id=67.

Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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