1838 - 1919
A Green Pool, French River, Canada
watercolour on paper on board, circa 1864
initialed and inscribed “to go in frame of Cure’s Orchard” in the margin and on verso titled, inscribed "64, by Mrs. F.A. Hopkins, March 1914" on the exhibition label and "The Cure's Orchard" / "Mrs. F.A. Hopkins, 95 Fitzjohns Avenue, N.W. " on a label and stamped “Museum Department”
16 x 21 1/2 in 40.6 x 54.6 cm
Estimate: $25,000 - $35,000
Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave
Private Collection, England
Walker's Galleries, London, England, March 1914
Frances Anne Hopkins (née Beechey) is a legendary figure in the history of Canadian art. Like every successful artist, her combination of talent and work ethic formed an oeuvre that is among the most important in nineteenth-century Canada. A Green Pool, French River, Canada is an aesthetic highpoint in a medium for which she had a rare sensitivity.
Hopkins was born in England, and after she married Edward Martin Hopkins she moved to Lachine, then Montreal, Quebec, and they remained in Canada East from 1858 until returning to England in 1870. Edward Hopkins was the chief factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Montreal department from 1860 to 1870, and Frances accompanied him on his tours of inspection to Fort William (now Thunder Bay, ON) in 1864, possibly 1866 and 1869, traveling west from Montreal up the Ottawa River to the Mattawa, onto Lake Nipissing, down the French River to Georgian Bay and onto the Great Lakes. Decades before Tom Thomson paddled the Mississagi Forest Reserve with William Broadhead in 1912, Hopkins took weeks-long trips over thousands of kilometres with Hudson’s Bay Company officials and voyageurs.
Art historian Robert Stacey’s insight into Hopkins’s literal and metaphorical perspective from the canoe rings true with A Green Pool, French River, Canada. As a passenger, being excused from the labour of paddling and portaging liberated her to closely observe the canoes, their paddlers and surrounding nature for extended periods. While canoes appear in the paintings of earlier nineteenth-century Canadian artists such as Paul Kane and Cornelius Krieghoff, only Hopkins’s images are as intimately bound to this distinctively Canadian conveyance. The canoe is the star of her oeuvre, and it is key to A Green Pool, French River, Canada.
In contrast to Kane’s and Krieghoff’s paintings with canoes that, respectively, have particular documentation and Romantic moodiness, or even Hopkins’s own oils replete with high drama, the quietude of A Green Pool, French River, Canada elicits a different reaction. It is a visual symphony that induces reverie. The main passages of water, rock and forest are divided into movements where a cluster of lily pads and water lilies in the bottom left retain and redirect the eye. Irregular patterns of lichen on the rock near the top right are pure painting, evocative of J.M.W. Turner in the 1830s, and the smoke wafting through the forest from the campsite in the top centre suffuses the land and air. Hopkins’s ability to achieve aesthetic and picturesque harmonies sets her apart from most of the artists working in Canada in the nineteenth century, and aligns her with Lucius O’Brien and Homer Watson.
A Green Pool, French River, Canada is a rare, unified, Canadian subject of exceptional size and resolution that has been overlooked in Hopkins’s literature and exhibitions, to the detriment of our understanding of her. It embodies her ability to spy the aesthetic potential of a scene, and create that vision anew in her studio with special sensitivity to atmosphere and colouring. Watercolour was a medium of high consequence in the Victorian era that she exploited to full and rich visual effect with A Green Pool, French River, Canada. Much more than historical documentation, this watercolour's distinguished ambience and gentle harmonies compose an image of sustaining pleasure.
We thank Gregory Humeniuk, art historian, writer and curator, for contributing the above essay.
1. Robert H. Stacey and Janet E. Clark, Frances Anne Hopkins, 1838-1919: Canadian Scenery (Thunder Bay, ON: Thunder Bay Art Gallery, 1990), exhibition catalogue, 49.
Estimate: $25,000 - $35,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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