1866 - 1934
March Break-up: A Bend in the North River
oil on canvas
signed and on verso titled Laurentian Landscape on the Loch Gallery label, inscribed "Box 20" and certified by the Cullen Inventory #1104
25 1/4 x 32 1/4 in, 64.1 x 81.9 cm
Estimate: $50,000 - $70,000
Sold for: $91,250
Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave
Watson Art Galleries, Montreal
Collection of John A. MacAulay, Winnipeg
Loch Gallery, Calgary
Estate of Ken Stephenson, Calgary
Paintings from the Collection of John A. MacAulay, QC, National Gallery of Canada, 1954, listed and reproduced, unpaginated
Sylvia Antoniou, Maurice Cullen, 1866 – 1934, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, 1982, page 24, a related 1932 larger canvas entitled The North River, collection of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, reproduced pages 43 and 81
A.K. Prakash, Impressionism in Canada: A Journey of Rediscovery, 2015, pages 305 and 321
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Paintings from the Collection of John A. MacAulay, QC, April 15 - May 20, 1954, traveling in 1954 - 1955 to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Art Gallery of Toronto, Winnipeg Art Gallery and Vancouver Art Gallery, catalogue #29
In 1888, Maurice Cullen joined the wave of international students who went to study in Paris, where he took classes with Jean-Léon Gérôme and Alfred Philippe Roll. He spent six years in Paris, and he sketched in the French countryside in the summers at locations such as Giverny. While in France, Cullen embraced French Impressionism, and on his return to Canada, his absorption of its tenet of painting out of doors, to capture changing light and atmospheric conditions, exhibited a fresh take on Quebec city scenes and landscapes that inspired other Canadian artists.
Cullen’s importance to Canadian painting was well recognized, and he was considered the father of Impressionism in Canada. He helped break through Canadian collectors’ preference for the dark genre scenes of the Barbizon and Hague schools. A.Y. Jackson said: “It was through Cullen and [James Wilson] Morrice that we in Montreal first became aware of the fresh and invigorating movements going on in the art circles of France…..To us [Cullen] was a hero.” Jackson called Cullen’s paintings of Quebec City from Lévis and along the St. Lawrence River “among the most distinguished works produced in Canada.”
Cullen was particularly drawn to the beauty of the Laurentians. In 1920, he built a cabin near Lac Tremblant on the Cachée River to use as a studio base, and he sketched the surrounding countryside on the spot, often in winter. He would head out on snowshoes with his paintbox to capture scenes such as this on small panels, to work up later into canvases. Cullen was especially attracted to Laurentian rivers in winter, such as the North, the Diable and the Cachée, and he mastered the portrayal of dark, reflective waters with ice in various stages of accumulation or dispersal. In the words of his dealer, the renowned William Watson, Cullen revealed “the poetry of woodland and stream.”
In this glorious panorama of a spring day seen from an interesting perspective at the top of a hill, Cullen depicted sunlight hastening the breakup of river ice and the melting of snow on the hillsides. His palette is vibrant, with golden yellows in the sun-raked hills on the left, khaki in the foreground hills, plum tones in the trees on the edge of the river, and bright streaks of cobalt in the background hills. He featured snowy banks and melting ice, as well as the remnants of snow on the foreground hillside, all tinged with gorgeous tones of blue, green and mauve. Cullen’s sensitivity to subtle modulations of light and atmosphere is masterful – here he creates the feeling that the landscape is coming back to life under the warming sun.
This painting was once owned by the illustrious collector John A. MacAulay of Winnipeg. In 1943, he became a member of the board of governors of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and he served as its president from 1950 to 1953. He was also a trustee of the National Gallery of Canada from 1955 to 1957. Over 25 years he built a collection of about 100 paintings and made discerning choices, including this exceptional work.
There is a similar fine, larger canvas of this scene in the collection of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, identified in the title as being of the North River. That work was included in the 1982 Agnes Etherington Art Centre Cullen exhibition, which toured to the Art Gallery of Ontario, Art Gallery of Hamilton, National Gallery of Canada and Edmonton Art Gallery.
For the biography on Ken Stephenson in PDF format please click here.
Estimate: $50,000 - $70,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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