Fall 2016 - 4th Session Live auction
Lot # 264
Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté
CAC RCA 1869 - 1937 Canadian
My Village, Arthabaska
oil on canvas
signed and dated 1925 and on verso titled, dated on the various gallery labels and inscribed with the W. Scott & Sons inventory #699
16 x 22 in 40.6 x 55.9cm
W. Scott & Sons, Montreal
Watson Galleries, Montreal
Kenneth G. Heffel Fine Art Inc., Vancouver
Peter and Joanne Brown Collection,Vancouver, acquired from the above in 1986
Laurier Lacroix, Suzor-Coté: Light and Matter, National Gallery of Canada and Musée du Québec, 2002, pages 27 and 28
Marc-Aurèle Suzor-Coté was quite a character. He was the son of the notary Théophile Côté, and in his childhood, as author Laurier Lacroix tells us, people used to call him Aurèle Côté—but later, he wanted a less common name as an artist. So he added de Foy to his name, the name of his maternal grandmother—with Defoy conveniently transformed into de Foy to look more aristocratic. He also added Suzor, which was the name of his mother. Finally, he suppressed the circumflex accent on Côté, as it is usually spelled in Quebec.
Perfectly at ease in high-class milieus, in both Paris and Montreal, he made his reputation as a painter with this invented name. But at the same time, he was proud to have been born in the Quebec “village” of Arthabaska (now Victoriaville), and he painted numerous subjects inspired by Arthabaska and its first inhabitants. From this point of view, My Village, Arthabaska from 1925 is typical. The houses shown in this painting are similar to the kind of brick cottage in which he was born and where he had a studio. One also sees on the left in this painting the spire of Saint-Christophe Church. But of course, the main subject here is snow, and the people struggling rather than just walking, in the foreground.
When in Paris, Suzor-Coté was trained as an academic painter at the École des beaux-arts and at the Académies Julian and Colarossi, and he produced a number of nudes that he could not easily sell in prudish Catholic Quebec. But he also met the landscape painter Henri Harpignies of the Barbizon School, who was a close friend of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. Harpignies introduced him to pleinairism, the concept of painting in the open (en plein air means "outside"). While he was in France, the main influence our painter absorbed was Impressionism. In My Village, Arthabaska, the blue sky, the bright facades of the houses, the blue shadows on the snow and the vibration in the branches of the trees—all this comes from Impressionism. One can also see how Suzor-Coté was influential for Canadian Impressionist Clarence Gagnon, who also painted winter scenes with clear skies and white snow.
To paint snow was a challenge that French Impressionist Claude Monet took seriously. One of the first snow paintings he ever painted, The Magpie, 1868 – 1869 (in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay), depicted shadows on snow with blue rather than grey. This lesson was well understood by Suzor-Coté, as our painting clearly attests. It is not astonishing that it was exhibited at Watson Galleries, which opened in 1921 on the corner of St. Catherine and Bishop Streets in Montreal, before moving later on to Sherbrooke Street. It was one of the first galleries to promote Canadian art alongside French, Dutch and English masters. The painting was acquired later by Kenneth G. Heffel, who opened his own gallery in Vancouver in 1978. This could not leave us indifferent at Heffel, as Kenneth G. was the father of David and Robert, who carry on the business.
My Village, Arthabaska is a fine Suzor-Coté, which fully realizes the idea of “light and matter” suggested in the title of the 2002 retrospective of the painter’s work at the Musée du Québec. Snow is the predominant matter, covering half of the area of the painting, and the bright light of a sunny Canadian winter day reflects from its sparkling surface.
We thank François-Marc Gagnon of the Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art, Concordia University, for contributing the above essay.
Estimate: $150,000 ~ $250,000 CAD
Sold For: $330,400.00 CAD (including buyer's premium)