2013: 'Deep Snow In Canada's North'
Born in rural Alberta in 1927 and raised there and in Manitoba, William Kurelek clearly knew a lot about cold and snow. But when it came to the cold and snow of the Arctic, there was, the painter acknowledged, “a big blank in my concept of Canada.” He set to filling that blank in May 1968 when he accepted an invitation from the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative to fly to Cape Dorset in what is now Nunavut from his Toronto home. The seven-day visit proved productive, resulting in 30 oil paintings, including this small, quickly realized gem (below). A convert to Catholicism in 1957 after years of depression, Kurelek could be a decidedly didactic, detailed and highly allegorical artist. But with Deep Snow at least, he seems to have been content to let form and colour be his agenda. Kurelek took pride in framing his own work, seeing the fittings as integral to the art. Here he’s raised the painting ever-so slightly on a dramatic “field” of Ontario barn-wood. — James Adams
Deep Snow In Canada's North (1968)
17.78 cm x 20.32 cm. Oil
The Thomson Private Collection.
© 2013 The Estate of William Kurelek, courtesy of the Wynick/Tuck Gallery, Toronto.
2012: 'Winter Woods'
'Backwoods things.' That's what Lawren Harris was passionate to paint in 1915, not furrowed fields, urban parks or the drawing rooms of the wealthy Torontonians he knew as the scion of the Massey-Harris millions. It was the northern wilderness, he believed, its rocks, trees, lakes and vaulting skies, 'their suggestion of mystery and bigness,' that best embodied the Canadian character while being the truest subject matter for an unfettered national art. Nothing inspired Harris more than 'the cold crispness of snows,' so much so that between 1914 and 1918 it was the staple of his picture making. Winter Woods, painted five years before Harris founded the Group of Seven, is one of the finest fruits of that obsession. With its textured, receding planes drawing the eye inward and up, the painting stylistically is influenced by the art nouveau and Scandinavian landscape painters Harris loved then. Yet its pictorial vigour, clarity and boldness of form intimate the glories to come when Harris and the Group would move the backwoods to the forefront of Canadian art. — James Adams
2011: 'Red Barn, Petite Rivière'
A.Y. Jackson - the initials stand for Alexander Young - was such a familiar figure in the mountainous Charlevoix region near the St. Lawrence River's north shore that locals nicknamed him Père Raquette - Father Snowshoe. The only Quebec-born member of the original Group of Seven, the bilingual Jackson liked to visit rural Quebec in late winter or early spring, determinedly mushing from one ruggedly picturesque vantage point to another to paint oil sketches - barns nestled in rolling terrain were a favourite subject - later worked up into full-fledged canvases. Jackson's first Quebec excursion, shortly after the end of the First World War, was such a success that the treks became an annual affair spanning more than 30 years. Completed a few years shy of Jackson's 50th birthday, Red Barn, Petite Rivière is one of his most charming achievements, a beautifully proportioned, sun-drenched tableau of considerable rhythmic verve and physicality, highlighted by the fluid rendering of tints in the snow. Jackson, of course, went on to paint thousands more landscapes, in all seasons and settings and parts of Canada. But as demonstrated by this painting, which was included in the 1938 exhibition A Century of Canadian Art at the Tate, London, winter seems to have been Jackson's true country, snow his preferred field of vision. — James Adams
2010: 'Prairie Town'
The modest hubbub and discrete pleasures of main street in a snowbound prairie village — it’s a scene William Kurelek knew to the tips of his frostbitten toes and fingers. Born on a farm in Alberta in 1927, raised there and in rural Manitoba, Kurelek gained fame in his too-short life — he died at 50 in Toronto — for his evocative renderings of the world of his childhood and that of his Ukrainian immigrant parents. A convert at 30 to Catholicism, Kurelek often imbued his scenes with allegorical, often apocalyptic elements. But in this winter wonderland of a tableau he seems content simply to affectionately render the humanity spread before him. Kurelek’s superior draftsmanship, his love of detail and richness of narrative earned him the sobriquet “the Cornelius Krieghoff of western Canada.” Often he’d extend this dedication to making the frames for his work — a practice here for what he later told an acquaintance was “the first and only painting of a small town I’ve ever done.” — James Adams
2009: 'In Jasper Park'
By 1924, A.Y. Jackson had already climbed a few peaks in his life. He had fought in the First World War and after being wounded, worked as a war artist. Prior to that he studied painting at the Académie Julian in Paris, where he had imbibed the nectar of impressionism, and had returned home to forge what would become the Group of Seven with his artist friends in Toronto, making numerous sketching expeditions throughout Ontario and Quebec. Here, though, Jackson has left the cozy Laurentian villages and their rolling, muddied cart paths for something untamed – the peaks of the Rocky Mountains, which held him in awe. “The obedient in art are always the forgotten,” Jackson once wrote to a friend. “Chop your own path. Get off the car track.” — Sarah Milroy
2008: 'Trees and Snow'
Trees And Snow was painted by Lawren Harris in 1924, and would seem to be self-explanatory. It's the morning after a storm - we can tell the snow is fresh from the heavily loaded boughs, a sumptuous subject for Mr. Harris's loaded brush - and the sky is clearing to reveal a heaven of robin's egg blue. But there's more to the story. Rather than picturing Algoma or Algonquin in the depths of winter, some of Mr. Harris's favourite haunts, the painting was actually made in the Rockies during his first visit west, in August. He was on a summer camping trip with A.Y. Jackson in the Tonquin Valley near Jasper, the two of them making sketches for a proposed CPR mural. Mr. Jackson's records tell us that it had been raining for days when the temperature suddenly dropped and a freak storm overnight blanketed the landscape in two feet of snow. Mr. Harris's oil sketch, made on the spot, records that moment of dazzled awakening. Who says miracles can't happen all year long? — Sarah Milroy