LOT 125

1881 - 1942

Two Nymphs on the Beach / White Painted Farmhouse (verso)
double-sided oil on panel
signed and on verso titled On the Beach on the gallery label and dated circa 1910 and inscribed "$60" and "8545"
6 1/4 x 9 1/4 in 15.9 x 23.5 cm

Estimate: $75,000 - $100,000

Preview at: Heffel Vancouver

Johnson Art Galleries, Montreal
Mr. and Mrs. L.C. Tombs, Quebec
Private Collection, Quebec
Sold sale of Fine Canadian Art, Heffel Fine Art Auction House, November 19, 2008, lot 170
Peter Ohler Sr., Vancouver
A.K. Prakash & Associates Inc., Toronto
Private Collection

Hughes de Jouvancourt, Clarence Gagnon, 1970, titled as On the Beach, reproduced page 36
René Boissay, Clarence Gagnon, 1988, a photograph by Gagnon of Katherine putting on a kimono on the beach at Baie-Saint-Paul reproduced page 52
Hélène Sicotte and Michèle Grandbois, Clarence Gagnon, 1881 – 1942: Dreaming the Landscape, Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, 2006, a 1904 oil on panel entitled Katherine, showing her near the sea in an orange-red kimono similar to the one in this work, reproduced page 63
A.K. Prakash, Impressionism in Canada: A Journey of Rediscovery, 2015, a 1904 oil on panel entitled Katherine reproduced page 572

Two Nymphs on the Beach depicts Clarence Gagnon’s young wife Katherine, daughter of Edward Irwin, a prosperous Montreal fashion goods merchant, and designer Catherine McEntyre. At the turn of the twentieth century, the Irwin family regularly left their Westmount home to enjoy France. Following Mr. Irwin’s passing in 1902, the family spent three years traveling through Europe; the journey led to the grandiose wedding of Katherine and Clarence on December 2, 1907, at Saint-Philippe-du-Roule church in Paris.

The couple had met in Montreal through Katherine’s sister, Ethel, who frequented the Art Association of Montreal School while Gagnon was studying there. From his arrival in Paris in 1904, Gagnon met Katherine again during their holidays in the north of France, on beaches and in picturesque villages in Brittany and Normandy. Their shared profound fondness for Japonisme quickly integrated into the couple’s way of life, as evidenced by the studio apartment they moved into at 9 rue Falguière in Paris: the large, bright room was decorated with Eastern silks, fans, parasols, screens, porcelains, several Japanese prints and more—in short, the exotic decor of a comfortable and trendy bohemian life in Paris.

Several photographs bear witness to the couple’s common passion, which can also be seen in Gagnon’s works soon after his arrival in France in 1904. That summer, the painter-engraver depicted Katherine sitting on the seashore wearing a vermilion kimono (private collection). He painted her again in 1907 or 1908 in a larger format, as she lounged under the shadow of green foliage, clothed in a white kimono with blue and red motifs (private collection). In a lovely and intimate scene from the same period, she is again portrayed wearing the same garment as a dressing gown opened at the waist, while, mirror in hand, she combs her hair (private collection). The self-described “Japan-crazy” Canadian’s fervour reached its epitome with Fantaisie japonaise, a large composition of geishas gathered under a blossoming cherry tree, created for the Salon de la Société des Artistes Français in Paris.

Returning home in 1908 and 1909, Gagnon broke away from the Land of the Rising Sun iconography, all the while continuing to cultivate Japanese stylistic elements, such as composition framing, clean design, bright colours and the use of flat, solid colour masses. The profound attachment he developed for the terroir of Charlevoix, as well as for the authenticity of its inhabitants, now superseded all other sources of inspiration. Only two small beach scenes captured at Baie-Saint-Paul in 1908 or 1909 revisit the exotic kimono. During this period, Gagnon took a picture of a half-nude Katherine slipping into a loose-fitting bathrobe, as suggested by the standing figure in Two Nymphs on the Beach. In the study, the point of view is different from that of the photo, providing no geographical suggestion other than the shoreline’s silhouette on the horizon. Very freely executed on the front of a Charlevoix landscape scene, this nude study is, above all, an excuse to celebrate the vibrant colours present on this bright, breezy day at the beach.

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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