Clarence Alphonse Gagnon
1881 - 1942
The Hills of Baie St. Paul (La vallée solitaire)
oil on canvas, 1908 - 1913
signed and on verso titled on the gallery labels, dated circa 1920 on the Klinkhoff Gallery label, inscribed with the inventory #1297b and certified by William Watson on the Watson Art Galleries label
19 1/2 x 25 1/2 in 49.5 x 64.8 cm
Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000
Sold for: $193,250
Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave
Watson Art Galleries, Montreal, late 1920s
Mr. and Mrs. J.B. Ryan, Quebec
Galerie Walter Klinkhoff Inc., Montreal
Private Collection, Vancouver
Hélène Sicotte and Michèle Grandbois, Clarence Gagnon, 1881 – 1942: Dreaming the Landscape, Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, 2006, pages 9, 114 and 115
A.K. Prakash, Impressionism in Canada: A Journey of Rediscovery, 2015, a photograph of the 1913 installation of the Gagnon exhibition at Galerie A.M. Reitlinger, including this painting, reproduced page 576
Galerie A.M. Reitlinger, Paris, Exposition Clarence A. Gagnon, November 27 – December 16, 1913, titled as La vallée solitaire, catalogue #31
Galerie Walter Klinkhoff Inc., Montreal, Clarence Gagnon Retrospective Exhibition, September 9 – 20, 1975, titled as Coucher de soleil [sic], Baie-Saint-Paul, catalogue #41
“The art of Clarence Gagnon has always been - and is still - remarkable for its freshness, its finely drawn compositions, its luminous palettes, its power to evoke and the authenticity of its representation. Whether embracing a majestically broad vista or portraying the main street of a historic village, whether depicting activities on the farm or in the forest, it reflects its author’s deep connection to the traditional life and heritage of an enchanted realm.”
—John R. Porter, General Director, Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, 1993 – 2008
Clarence Gagnon’s relationship with Baie-Saint-Paul, in Charlevoix County, began as early as 1902, and it was a location that became very dear to him. Gagnon moved back and forth between Canada and France often, and during his sojourn in Quebec from 1908 to 1909, he stayed in Baie-Saint-Paul. In 1912, he again returned to Quebec and settled immediately in Baie-Saint-Paul, traveling back to Paris in 1913. Michèle Grandbois notes that The Hills of Baie St. Paul (La vallée solitaire) was painted between 1908 and 1913, sometime during these two sojourns in Baie-Saint-Paul, when Gagnon was preparing the work to be shown at his 1913 exhibition at Galerie A.M. Reitlinger, in Paris. Most of the works in that show were winter scenes featuring the Charlevoix region. A photograph of the installation at Reitlinger, reproduced here, confirms that our painting was in that show, titled as La vallée solitaire in the show’s listing of works. This was an important exhibition that consisted of 75 oil paintings and engravings, and it was a turning point in Gagnon’s career, establishing his prominence as an artist both internationally and in Canada. Grandbois states that this was likely the first solo exhibition of a Quebec artist in Paris at that time.
The gallery was located in Paris’s 8th arrondissement, and its interior was bathed in natural light from a skylight. The walls were painted blue, which had the effect of making the snowscapes glow. Reviews were generally positive, and it is amusing to read that some critics expected these Canadian winter scenes to have “the melancholy and gloomy bleakness of frozen wastes.” But on seeing the work, critic François Thiebault-Sisson of Le Temps expressed that he “sensed an enlivening atmosphere, a delicious clarity, ‘a fresh air that cools the brain, expands the lungs, kindles courage and strength.’ ” News of Gagnon’s success in this show reached Canadian newspapers, who quoted the French critics’ remarks in their articles.
Gagnon continued to return to Baie-Saint-Paul; he was there from 1914 to 1917 and again from 1919 to 1924. Finally, in 1936, he returned permanently to his beloved Baie-Saint-Paul. This canvas is a gorgeous view of the Laurentian hills around Baie-Saint-Paul. As a colourist, Gagnon’s skills were superb, and here his palette is dominated by rich blues and greens. His blues are particularly stunning, made more vibrant by their contrast to his use of white and pale dove grey. These opulent blue hues are at their deepest and most electric in the flanks of the mountains in the foreground, fading to paler tones through the successive layers of mountains—hazy with mist at the last layer—then finally moving into a glowing turquoise in the sky. Gagnon’s brushwork is assured—his paint-strokes establish directional movement in the landscape, from vertical streaks in the foreground mountain to an upward diagonal of snowfields in the third layer.
Gagnon executed his oil sketches out of doors, traveling by skis in the winter, and carrying a shoulder bag with a paintbox, sketchbook and a folding stool made especially for him by the village blacksmith. The artist preferred the landscape of Charlevoix that surrounded Baie-Saint-Paul above all others, and his vision of it deepened and intensified over his many years of living there. Luminescent and beautiful, this superb large canvas is an extraordinary painting from Gagnon’s body of work depicting this area.
We thank Michèle Grandbois, co-author of Clarence Gagnon, 1881 – 1942: Dreaming the Landscape, for her assistance in researching this lot.
Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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