ALC CGP G7 OSA RCA RSA
1882 - 1974
oil on canvas
signed and dated 1920 and on verso titled and dated on the gallery label
25 x 32 in, 63.5 x 81.3 cm
Available for post auction sale. CAD
Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave
Acquired directly from the Artist
Mr. P.R. Hilborn, Ottawa
By descent within the family
Canadian Art, Joyner Fine Art, December 4, 2001, lot 50, titled as April, Georgian Bay
Galerie Walter Klinkhoff Inc., Montreal
Private Collection, California
Charles C. Hill, The Group of Seven: Art for a Nation, National Gallery of Canada, 1995, page 117 for photographs of the 1920 exhibition at the Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts
Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts, Paintings by the Group of Seven Canadian Artists, November 7 - 28, 1920, traveling in 1920 - 1922 to Boston, Rochester, Toledo, Indianapolis, Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, Columbus, Minneapolis and Muskegon, Michigan
Art Gallery of Toronto, A.Y. Jackson: Paintings, 1902 - 1953, October - November 1953, and the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, December - January 1954, catalogue #30(a)
A.Y. Jackson’s painting of an early spring day on Georgian Bay is a vision of renewal. It belongs to a pivotal series of canvases that Jackson worked up from sketches painted in Muskoka between February and April 1920. This period marked the artist’s re-engagement with wilderness as a subject following a four-and-a-half-year hiatus of military service during World War I—first as a private in the Canadian infantry, and subsequently as a war artist for the War Records unit under Lord Beaverbrook. Georgian Bay was among the first works the artist painted following the formation of the Group of Seven in March 1920. It would be included in the Group’s inaugural international exhibition, held at the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts in November 1920, which followed close on the heels of the Group’s premiere presentation at the Art Gallery of Toronto in May of the same year. Hanging alongside Tom Thomson’s painting The West Wind (1916 - 1917), Georgian Bay would help to define the Group for American viewers as the Worcester show went on tour to cities including Boston, Detroit and Minneapolis through 1922.
In his autobiography, Jackson wrote that he had spent the winter of 1920 attempting “to regain the excitement which had sustained me in the months before the war.” Following harrowing years as a witness to conflict overseas, Jackson hoped to regain his bearings as a painter of northern landscapes in the island-studded Cognashene archipelago, where he had sketched some of his pre-war works. Staying in Franceville on Georgian Bay, Jackson revisited the Precambrian landscape that had inspired Terre Sauvage (1913), a work he later dubbed “the first large canvas of the new movement.”
Though not yet formalized as the Group of Seven, a nascent national landscape movement was beginning to coalesce around J.E.H. MacDonald and Lawren Harris by 1913. In that year, MacDonald had written to Jackson, then based in Quebec, on behalf of Harris, who was interested in acquiring Jackson’s early masterpiece The Edge of the Maple Wood (1910). After meeting with Harris and MacDonald as well as Arthur Lismer and Frederick Varley, Jackson was convinced to stay on in Toronto, where he was offered space in the Studio Building that Harris was in the process of constructing in the Rosedale Valley in partnership with Dr. James MacCallum, an ophthalmologist and visionary patron of the arts. As he had previously done for MacDonald, MacCallum agreed to subsidize Jackson’s expenses for a year, freeing him to paint full time. While staying at MacCallum’s cottage on West Wind Island that summer, Jackson completed sketches for Terre Sauvage. Back in Toronto, Terre Sauvage was worked up on canvas in Harris’s studio at Yonge and Bloor just prior to the completion of the Studio Building. An enthusiastic witness to its execution was Tom Thomson, a protégé of MacDonald’s at Grip Ltd., and a soon-to-be fellow beneficiary of MacCallum’s patronage.
Georgian Bay recaptures the optimism of the rainbowed landscape of Terre Sauvage, whereas other works produced by a war-traumatized Jackson in the same period amounted to a continuation of his war paintings. “Nature had become a field of battle, glimpsed as though after some terrible shelling, with more yet in store,” Douglas Hunter observes. The blackened tree stumps of October Morning, Algoma (1920), based on sketches produced during a railway trip to the scenic region north of Sault Ste. Marie organized by Harris in the fall of 1919, are notably absent from Georgian Bay. After struggling for months to rekindle his desire to paint following his discharge from the army in April 1919, on the Algoma expedition Jackson “got enthused again and worked quite hard,” as he wrote to critic and photographer Harold Mortimer-Lamb. Georgian Bay is evidence of continued progress in the artist’s post-war recovery: the oppressive atmosphere of works such as March Storm, Georgian Bay (1920) has cleared, revealing patches of blue sky and placid waters that glow like a polished gemstone.
We thank Adam Lauder for contributing the above essay. Lauder is an art historian based in Toronto and an instructor at the University of Toronto and Ontario College of Art and Design.
1. A.Y. Jackson, A Painter’s Country: An Autobiography of A.Y. Jackson (1976; repr., Toronto; Vancouver: Clarke, Irwin, 1958), 51.
2. Ibid., 31.
3. Douglas Hunter, Jackson’s Wars: A.Y. Jackson, the Birth of the Group of Seven, and the Great War (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2022), 356.
4. Quoted in Hunter, Jackson’s Wars, 348.
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