1822 - 1914
Hudson Bay Point, Lake Superior
oil on board
initialed and dated 1878 and on verso titled on the Art Gallery of Ontario label and inscribed "Pic HBay Point" and "L. Superior" or possibly "Simpson" indistinctly
8 x 12 in, 20.3 x 30.5 cm
Estimate: $30,000 - $50,000
Sold for: $79,250
Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave
George Rowney & Co., London
G. Blair Laing, Toronto
Kenneth R. Thomson Collection, Toronto
Private Collection, Toronto
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
In this busy scene of a First Nations encampment, Hudson Bay Point, Lake Superior, William Armstrong painted a picture drawn from life (he had made sketches when he traveled there about 1859). The bristling trees that crown the background hills recall trees in other pictures he had made of Lake Superior, but the figures in the foreground peacefully going about their daily business - a man readying a canoe for action, a woman carrying a child on a cradleboard and a man fishing - suggest what existence was like for this family group. On the far shore are the dwellings of some members of their community. Coming into the scene on the right is a large boat of traders (possibly including Sir George Simpson). The work is a vignette of life for some Indigenous peoples during the nineteenth century, painted from the viewpoint of history, and reflects the mood and atmosphere of the Canadian landscape and in particular the skies of northern Ontario.
On the back of the painting is possibly written “L. Superior” or “Simpson” in graphite, and Armstrong might have thought in making the scene of the adventurous life of Simpson (circa 1792 - 1860), the Hudson’s Bay Company administrator called the “Emperor of the North,” with good reason. Simpson made regular trips by canoe to the trading posts, of which this community is an example, as can be seen from the barrels and goods piled in the foreground.
Blair Laing, the prominent dealer, had this work in his own collection. Armstrong watercolours of superb quality were well known to him, and he had bought many from the collection of Canadian politician George Brown and others. But he would have realized the rarity of this example of Armstrong’s oil painting, and no doubt had been struck by the charm of the work. In the second volume of his Memoirs of an Art Dealer, Laing wrote about Armstrong, noting that the artist had been born in Dublin, and came to Canada in 1851, at the age of 19. An art instructor at the Toronto Normal School and then the University of Toronto, Armstrong actively painted around the Great Lakes. Laing illustrated his pages on Armstrong with another oil the same size as the work here but done a year earlier, in 1877, Indians in War Canoes (plate 40). Like Hudson Bay Point, Lake Superior, it shows the First Nations in motion and is likely from the same collection. He sold Hudson Bay Point, Lake Superior, the more important of the two paintings, to his favourite client, Lord Kenneth Thomson.
We thank Joan Murray, former curator of Canadian art and chief curator (1972) at the Art Gallery of Ontario and author of the 1984 book The Best of the Group of Seven, for contributing the above essay.
Estimate: $30,000 - $50,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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