LOT 230

1877 - 1917

Stream Bank and Tree
oil on canvas on board, circa 1908 - 1910
10 x 7 in, 25.4 x 17.8 cm

Estimate: $40,000 - $50,000 CAD

Sold for: $241,250

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

Fraser Thomson, brother of the Artist, Owen Sound
Jerold Morris Gallery, Toronto
Alex Fraser Galleries, Vancouver
Mr. and Mrs. James Boughton, Toronto
The Art Emporium, Vancouver, 1970
Amy Webster, Vancouver
Important Canadian Art, Sotheby's Toronto, May 25, 1970, lot 128
The Art Emporium, Vancouver, 1980
Private Collection
The Collection of Torben V. Kristiansen, Vancouver

David P. Silcox and Harold Town, Tom Thomson: The Silence and the Storm, 1977, reproduced page 34

Tom Thomson’s Stream Bank and Tree is a vibrant, practically over-the-top painting of a tree dramatically bent from the wind. The viewer can almost see the wind as it blows on the tree, and on the trees and bushes nearby. The sky near the horizon is flushed pink, suggesting that the time of day is early morning. Light comes from the right, making the grass by the tree into a swatch of yellow. In the creek beneath the tree, the scene bursts with detail, especially the rocks in the water and on the banks to either side. The painting is an exuberant foray into making art, stirring our appreciation for the artist who will in his maturity be considered one of the greatest artists Canada ever produced and for one of his greatest themes, trees in all their configurations. Stream Bank and Tree says it all: Thomson’s later development, his astonishingly quick ascent to stardom, his absorption in nature, his verve as a colourist.

Thomson created this work around the year 1908 as the signature suggests, since it is similar to the signature Thomson used in Lady with a Garland, a dated work done that year. Another work dated the same year, The Banks of the River, drawn in ink, has a similarly inclined tree, though in reverse, as does a work he did in watercolour titled Tree. All the artworks of this year were done around places Thomson lived—Leith and Owen Sound. Thomson worked at this time for Legg Brothers, photo-engravers in Toronto, but returned home on weekends. He was shortly to work for Grip Engraving Ltd., the graphic design firm where he got his real foundation as an artist. Stream Bank and Tree is a work done from his imagination though based on careful observation. It is painted with an easy confidence and a masterly, highly competent technique.

That confidence probably was not from attending evening classes at the Central Ontario School of Art and Industrial Design in Toronto—he might have been there for a session—but from his training in design. It also may have come from his way of working, chasing a motif till it yielded a satisfactory result. Doing several versions was his habit. Although we do not know which version came first, it seems likely that the tree in Stream Bank and Tree was later. The penned Banks of the River probably came first (Thomson was an able “penman”), then the watercolour, then the painting. Likely too there were other versions that are lost. A brother noted his habit in his Seattle days of trying a decorative motif in several versions before he was satisfied. “It was a regular game with him to … change the design to suit his own ideas—and then compare their respective merits,” he said.[1]

The sketch was owned by Fraser Thomson (1886 – 1967), Thomson’s youngest brother. From him, the work came to the curator and dealer Jerold Morris and to the gallery he established in Toronto. It had distinguished, knowledgeable owners such as Alex Fraser, a long-time dealer from England with a gallery on Granville Street in Vancouver, and Mr. and Mrs. James Boughton of Toronto (Alfred J. Boughton did most of the framing for the Group of Seven, was a friend of the artists and owned another Thomson, Shack in the Woods), before it came to Torben Kristiansen, owner of the Art Emporium. Kristiansen may have felt proprietary rights to the work because he bought it twice, the second time at Sotheby’s. The vitality of Stream Bank and Tree closely echoes Kristiansen’s own vivacity. As the Vancouver Sun writes, he was a “dashing fellow, full of derring-do.”[2]

We thank Joan Murray, former curator of Canadian art and chief curator (1972) at the Art Gallery of Ontario, for contributing the above essay. Murray helped to bring the paintings of Tom Thomson to world attention through a series of exhibitions and seven books, including a biography (the most recent is A Treasury of Tom Thomson). Murray is the author of the Tom Thomson Catalogue Raisonné.

This work is included in the Tom Thomson catalogue raisonné, researched and written by Joan Murrary, as catalogue #1908.11: https://www.tomthomsoncatalogue.org/catalogue/entry.php?id=55.

1. Henry Thomson, letter written for him by Ralph Thomson, quoted in Joan Murray, The Art of Tom Thomson (Toronto: Art Gallery of Toronto, 1971), 10.

2. John Mackie, “Jet-Setting Vancouver Art Dealer Torben Kristiansen Dies at 92,” Vancouver Sun, August 18, 2023.

For the biography on Torben V. Kristiansen in PDF format, please click here.

Estimate: $40,000 - $50,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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