Peter Clapham Sheppard
1879 - 1965
Market Stand Woman, Bonsecours Market
oil on canvas, circa 1930 - 1935
signed and on verso stamped with the estate stamp
36 x 30 in 91.4 x 76.2 cm
Available for post auction sale.
Preview at: Design Exchange
Private Collection, Toronto
Born, raised and educated in Toronto, Peter Clapham Sheppard was a contemporary of the Group of Seven whose career began similarly when he started working in commercial art in his late teens. His fine art career overlapped the Group’s as he started exhibiting in the mid-1910s, hit his stride in the mid-1920s, and further defined his personal content and style into the 1930s. In those decades he exhibited regularly in the annual exhibitions of the Ontario Society of Artists and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, the spring exhibitions of the Art Association of Montreal (now the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts), and at the Canadian National Exhibition, in Toronto.
Like Tom Thomson, Sheppard left few biographical details for the art historian and biographer. Unlike Thomson, Sheppard had a prolific career working in Toronto, New York, Ottawa and Montreal, and he left a prodigious body of work. Although Sheppard left no explicit statements about his motivations, the longer arc of his career has a variety and texture missing from Thomson’s. Distinct from his contemporaries in the Group, and including even Lawren Harris, Sheppard’s interest in urban subjects spanned decades. His is an art engaged with the urban milieu, which he perceived empathetically. Sheppard’s artistic approach and aspirations gel in Market Stand Woman, Bonsecours Market, which offers a distinct contrast to Harris’s detached, if not aloof, urban scenes.
Compared with his smaller Bonsecours Market, sold by Heffel in November 2018 (lot 122), and The Market, November (circa 1934), both of which evoke the commotion of an urban market, Market Stand Woman, Bonsecours Market captures one vendor’s quiet isolation. In this painting Sheppard described a common moment in the urban sphere. In the split second before the start of a long day, an anonymous worker’s stolen reverie is broken by a commotion. In that moment we see the seller’s acuity and focus in sharp relief.
The vegetables enveloping the figure are more artful than coincidental. Embraced in a cleft of merchandised produce, the market stand woman dramatically shows her left profile. Sheppard’s distinctive addition of white to his palette lightened the overall hue to create the luminous, slightly vaporous, haze of autumn burning off on a cloudless morning. This addition of white unified the painting and allowed Sheppard to carefully structure the scene into three distinct zones of foreground, mid-ground and background. Forcing his perspective like flats in a stage design, the foreground of pickle barrel and pepper pot are the highest keyed of the white-infused colours, then the mid-ground scene of vegetables and vendor, and finally vertical strokes of pale yellow, wan robin’s egg blue and mauve disintegrate the background. Horizontal strokes in mauve, staggered like Roman brickwork along the bottom of the painting, create a cool shadow, simultaneously contrived and convincing.
Given Sheppard’s consistent evocation of the human and the humane, it is little wonder he has not figured in the standard surveys of Canadian art. Despite this, interest in him has grown steadily over the past decade. His inclusion in the exhibition Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection (2010 – 2011), a major illustrated monograph by Tom Smart (2018), a feature article in the Globe and Mail (2018) and steady success at auction all bolster the ongoing revision of Sheppard’s place in the history of modern art in Canada.
We thank Gregory Humeniuk, art historian, writer and curator, for contributing the above essay.
Available for post auction sale.
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