LOT 110

1898 - 1992

Summer Sky
oil on board, 1955
signed and on verso signed and titled on the exhibition label and inscribed "Cat. #50" and variously
30 x 36 in, 76.2 x 91.4 cm

Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000 CAD

Sold for: $781,250

Preview at:

Collection of the Artist
Dr. and Mrs. B.B. Hillary, London, Ontario
By descent to a Private Collection, Ontario
Private Collection, London, Ontario

Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, 76th Annual Exhibition, Art Gallery of Toronto, 1955, listed, unpaginated
A.J. Casson Retrospective, McMaster Museum of Art, 1971, listed, unpaginated, dated 1956
Paul Duval, A.J. Casson, His Life & Works: A Tribute, 1980, reproduced, unpaginated

Art Gallery of Toronto, Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, 76th Annual Exhibition, November 25, 1955 - January 2, 1956, catalogue #18
McMaster Museum of Art, Hamilton, A.J. Casson Retrospective, November 10 – December 11, 1971, catalogue #50

Extremely few Canadian artists have been more celebrated than the members of the Group of Seven. They have been exhibited, written about and internationally fêted for over a century. A.J. Casson formally joined the Group in the summer of 1926, but he had painted with them throughout most of the 1920s, having met Group member Franklin Carmichael at the commercial art firm Rous & Mann Ltd. as his apprentice. During his time with the Group, Casson produced warm, humane canvases such as Housetops in the Ward (circa 1924, in the Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario) and brilliant, striking oil sketches such as Pic Island, Lake Superior (1928, sold by Heffel in December 2021). The work he produced during this time stands beautifully amongst some of the most indelible images in Canadian art.

It is important to note, however, that many of Casson’s most known and beloved works are not from the Group period, but from the years following. Country Crisis (sold by Heffel for a record price in November 2016), for example, was produced in 1940, and The White Pine (in the McMichael Canadian Art Collection) and The Blue Heron (sold by Heffel in May 1996) were both produced circa 1957. Casson was a young man when he joined the Group, not yet 30, which meant that he still had many years to explore his own distinctive aesthetic vision.

Although these earlier works are vital and irreplaceable, when Casson’s career is looked at as a whole, it is the mid-1950s, when Summer Sky was produced, that mark the emergence of a style that was eminently his own. A contributing factor was Casson’s long and award-winning career as a commercial artist with the firm Sampson-Matthews Ltd. While an important source of financial stability for his family, his commercial work also kept him from being able to focus all his attention on painting. By 1955, though, these responsibilities were drawing to a close, and the availability and refocusing of his energies is a hallmark of this moment just prior to his formal retirement in 1958.

Also essential to note is that Casson did not view his professional life as onerous, but rather regarded the lessons it taught him as key to his painterly achievements. From it he learned to use composition forcefully and dynamically, and to engage colour efficiently and effectively. To this point, one must always look to Casson’s expert use of green, a demanding colour and one that can easily overwhelm an image. Casson became notably adept in his handling of it, driven to a mastery in part by rigorous professional training, and in part by many of his sketching trips being relegated to Sampson-Matthews’ summer breaks.

It is formally and stylistically, however, where Casson’s rich life as a commercial artist is the most evident. Canadian artists from J.E.H. MacDonald to Jack Bush have had careers as commercial artists, but it is Casson who most successfully adapted its visual stylizations to his painting. In Summer Sky, towering cloud formations softened by gentle pink undertones fill the entirety of the sky in graphic angularity, suspended above a stylized treeline rendered in Casson’s aforementioned green. In neo-Cubist ventures, he expresses forms in their essence, stylized but still with remarkably true natural resonance. A key to this genuine presence is found in the currents that circumnavigate his shoreline. His alternations between the wind-brushed ripples and the glassy stillness reflecting the trees contain an undeniable note of authenticity. Here, at the outset of one of his greatest periods, Casson captures the majesty of the natural world with awe, reverence, and an artistic voice of uncommon clarity.

Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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