LOT 202

1888 - 1949

The Big Pine, Lake of the Woods
oil on board
signed and on verso titled, dated circa 1920 on the Laing Galleries label and inscribed "$75.00"
13 x 10 1/2 in, 33 x 26.7 cm

Estimate: $15,000 - $25,000 CAD

Sold for: $52,250

Preview at:

Laing Galleries, Toronto
Important Canadian Paintings, Drawings, Watercolours, Books and Prints of the 19th and 20th Centuries, Sotheby & Co. (Canada) Ltd., October 23 – 24, 1973, lot 7
The Collection of Torben V. Kristiansen, Vancouver

Frank Hans Johnston became a member of the Group of Seven in 1920, when the Group first exhibited at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the Art Gallery of Ontario). He only exhibited with the Group once but remained friendly with his former colleagues, and his work was seen in several larger exhibitions with Group members. An important teacher, Johnston taught in both Winnipeg and Toronto, while continuing to actively paint and exhibit. In 1921, he moved to Winnipeg to serve as the principal of the School of Art and director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, returning to Toronto in 1924.

Johnston painted several images of Lake of the Woods beginning in 1920 or 1921. One of Johnston’s most celebrated images of the subject is Serenity, Lake of the Woods, 1922 (collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery). The present painting is inscribed on the verso in Johnston’s hand, The Big Pine. It seems that the current title was provided by the dealer, Blair Laing, when the painting was in the inventory of the Laing Galleries (see label on verso).

While stylistically this image seems unquestionably to come from the early 1920s, the work is signed Franz Johnston. This would suggest that it was signed some years after it was painted, because Johnston did not adopt the name Franz until 1925.

The oil sketch shows a huge pine tree on the shore of Lake of the Woods. The trunk of the tree dominates the composition, with more attention paid to the foliage nearest the viewer. The foliage on the far side of the tree is depicted in silhouette. Johnston has also rendered this foliage in brown rather than green. This decision allows the foreground foliage to be shown more clearly, the pine needles being suggested by the brushstrokes. Johnston has also paid attention to rendering the bark of the trunk by varying his brush-strokes and using a variety of colours.

Johnston has carefully planned the composition. He has emphasized the abstract pattern of the tree itself by placing it before an evenly painted sky. Below the foliage and branches of the tree are bushes and grass to the right of the tree trunk. To the left of the trunk appear a group of yellow flowers. Although impossible to identify due to the way they have been so quickly painted, the yellow blossoms provide an important point of colour, which contrasts with the greens and browns of the tree.

Johnston has treated the lake itself, the far shore and the sky relatively minimally to ensure that the foreground pine reads boldly. The grandeur and scale of the pine is highlighted by his choice to truncate the upward rise of the tree by the upper edge of the painting. Johnston had spent the early years of his career working as a commercial designer at Grip Ltd. in Toronto. This experience allowed him to create an image that benefits from assured graphic design. The strong silhouette of the pine defines the space of the painting, ensuring that the image is both forceful and memorable.

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

Estimate: $15,000 - $25,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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