1881 - 1942
On the Beach of Baie St. Paul
oil on board
on verso titled and dated 1909 on the gallery labels and certified by the Lucile Rodier Gagnon inventory #633
6 1/4 x 9 1/4 in 15.9 x 23.5 cm
Estimate: $75,000 - $100,000
Preview at: Heffel Vancouver
Estate of the Artist
Galerie Walter Klinkhoff Inc., Montreal
Waddington Galleries, Montreal
A.K. Prakash & Associates Inc., Toronto
Private Collection, Calgary
A.K. Prakash, Canadian Art: Selected Masters from Private Collections, 2003, reproduced page 122
Hélène Sicotte and Michèle Grandbois, Clarence Gagnon, 1881 – 1942: Dreaming the Landscape, Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, 2006, reproduced page 99, titled as Beach Scene, Baie-Saint-Paul, and listed page 345
A.K. Prakash, Impressionism in Canada: A Journey of Rediscovery, 2015, reproduced page 574
Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, Quebec City, Clarence Gagnon, 1881 - 1942: Dreaming the Landscape, June 7 – September 10, 2006, traveling in 2006 - 2007 to the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, and the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, catalogue #39
Had Clarence Gagnon wanted to continue painting the leisure activities of posh seaside resorts, a subject characteristic of his Impressionist period in France from 1907 to 1908, he surely would have found such attractive, inspiring sites on this side of the Atlantic. The US coastline was then teeming with beaches—Newport, Cape May, Old Orchard, etc.—frequented from the end of the eighteenth century onwards by wealthy American and Canadian families. In the nineteenth century, new rail-accessible destinations lured some of these visitors farther north, to the shores of the St. Lawrence River—to Kamouraska, La Malbaie and Tadoussac—and to lakeshores where large and luxurious hotels welcomed a privileged clientele.
However, having returned to settle in Canada between July 1908 and December 1909 after four years in France, for Gagnon this seaside theme became a thing of the past. Henceforth the painter drew his inspiration from the rustic landscapes of the village of Baie-Saint-Paul, tucked away in a valley on the shores of the majestic St. Lawrence River. It was there that the painter spent the summers of 1908 and 1909 with his wife Katherine Irwin. At that time, Baie-Saint-Paul’s long shoreline had barely seen touristic development, particularly due to a sawmill that operated nearby from 1903 to the late 1920s. Thus, the beach had retained its wild and natural state, as shown by the delightful pochade titled On the Beach of Baie St. Paul, so different from the animated scenes of holidaymakers, beach huts and striped parasols on Brittany’s seashores that had been typical of Gagnon.
The intimacy felt in this pochade is comparable to that in Two Nymphs on the Beach (lot 125 in this sale), despite the fact that these two figures are clothed. The artist has opted here for a wider scope that encompasses the river up to Cap-aux-Corbeaux and the Isle-aux-Coudres. The figures’ respective positions draw the eye from left to right, like a fan spreading out across the grandiose landscape. In the late-afternoon light, the sea breeze is palpable: it stirs up a few waves in the direction of the two women, tousles their hair and ruffles the silky material of their exotic garments.
In the foreground, there are signs of the clothing trends the Irwin-Gagnons favoured in Paris. The influence of Japonisme is sensed not only through the presence of Japanese kimono fabrics, but also in the artist’s pictorial creativity, in his use of delicate splashes and several hints of colour on the sand. The landscape dominates the rest of the scene, in a smooth broad spectrum of blue. In this small painting, the artist harmonizes objects of a sophisticated culture with untamed nature. There are few other examples of such an amalgam in the works of the “image smith” Gagnon. Ten years later, another pochade would depict the artist’s second wife, Lucile Rodier, sitting and reading on the beach of Baie-Saint-Paul (private collection).
Gagnon would keep On the Beach of Baie St. Paul in his studio, among several hundred pochades depicting his visits to Baie-Saint-Paul between 1908 and 1925, which he subsequently brought back to Paris. Once inventoried by Lucile Rodier Gagnon in 1946, this charming scene was exhibited to a large audience six decades later, as part of the retrospective Clarence Gagnon, 1881-1942: Dreaming the Landscape, prepared by the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec and the National Gallery of Canada in 2006.
We thank Michèle Grandbois, co-author of Clarence Gagnon, 1881 – 1942: Dreaming the Landscape, for contributing this essay.
Estimate: $75,000 - $100,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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