LOT 220

1877 - 1917

Colourful Maples
oil on board, fall 1914
stamped with the estate stamp twice and on verso inscribed in graphite "121. M. Thomson" and stamped with the estate stamp five times
8 1/2 x 10 1/2 in, 21.5 x 26.7 cm

Estimate: $700,000 - $900,000 CAD

Sold for: $961,250

Preview at:

Estate of the Artist
Margaret Thomson Tweedale, sister of the Artist, Toronto
Private Collection, Toronto
Galerie Walter Klinkhoff Inc., Montreal
Michael H. Dunn, Montreal and Newport, Vermont
Important Canadian Art, Sotheby's Canada in association with Ritchies, November 19, 2007, lot 35, sold as Algonquin Park
A.K. Prakash and Associates Inc., Toronto
Masters Gallery Ltd., Calgary
The Collection of Torben V. Kristiansen, Vancouver

Colourful Maples is a daring adventure by Tom Thomson in colour, form and structure. It marks a change in the course of Canadian painting, and with other works of this season—fall 1914—is one of the works that introduces Thomson’s important body of work in his short career. In the light of a sombre day, the maples have a smouldering intensity enhanced by the oranges of nearby trees and fallen leaves. Autumn in the north has been kindled in a single sketch.

Thomson began to create these works because of the visits of his artist-peers that autumn to Algonquin Park, where he was painting. First came A.Y. Jackson, in the middle of September, and then three weeks later, Arthur Lismer and family along with F.H. Varley and his wife Maud. The appreciation of these friends, their presence, brought about radical changes to Thomson’s painting, making it freer, with more spontaneous handling and more variation to the composition. Now he began his habit of layering in his work. In this sketch, for instance, he used brilliant orange and touches of yellow as the layer on top of more subdued mossy greens. “No longer handicapped by literal representation, he was transposing, eliminating, designing, experimenting, finding happy colour motives amid tangle and confusion, and revelling in paint,” Jackson later wrote.[1]

Jackson’s words alert the viewer to certain qualities in the sketch—its freedom and the design that animates the motif. It is not a literal representation, but a spirited rendition of what autumn in the North meant to Thomson, based but not dependent on reality. In some ways, it is painted in such a loose way that the “revelling in paint” brings it close to abstraction, but only in a playful way. Perhaps Jackson was thinking of works such as this when he, ever the pessimist where advances in art were concerned, warned—immediately after writing “he plasters on the paint and gets fine quality”—“but there is a danger in wandering too far down that road.”[2]

On October 6, 1914, Thomson wrote to his friend and patron Dr. James MacCallum that “the maples were about all stripped of leaves”[3] so Colourful Maples must have been done before that date, perhaps at around the same time as Soft Maple in Autumn (Tom Thomson Art Gallery, Owen Sound) and Twisted Maple (McMichael Canadian Art Collection) and before or after Autumn Landscape (private collection, Calgary), where the colour orange is less brilliant and prominent. He must have felt inspired to paint several sketches a day if the weather was good. As Jackson later wrote, “The amount of work Thomson was doing was incredible.”[4]

A few years before the death of Elizabeth Thomson Harkness in 1924, Margaret Thomson took over handling Thomson’s estate for the family. She placed Colourful Maples with the prominent Montreal dealer Walter Klinkhoff, who sold it to Michael H. Dunn (1942 – 2007), an investment banker, book dealer, and collector who moved from Montreal to Newport, Vermont, in 1978. For a few years, Colourful Maples sojourned in Vermont, until Dunn phoned Sotheby’s Canada. “It was a cold call” (in other words, it came out of the blue), the head of the firm boasted to art mavens. Sotheby’s sold the work to a private collector and after some time, it came to Masters Gallery in Calgary, through A.K. Prakash and Associates, Toronto, prior to being sold in 2016 to the Art Emporium, where Torben Kristiansen kept it for his own collection.

Kristiansen definitely had a taste for the more spectacular examples of an artist’s work: no study examples for him. Although he sold examples of Thomson’s work, he kept this one for himself. Its buoyant mood and exuberant quality may have struck a chord with his own zest for life.

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 works is included in the Tom Thomson catalogue raisonné, researched and written by Murrary, as catalogue #1914.82: https://www.tomthomsoncatalogue.org/catalogue/entry.php?id=256.

1. A.Y. Jackson, foreword in Catalogue of Paintings by the Late Tom Thomson (Montreal: The Arts Club, 1919), n.p., quoted by Charles C. Hill, “Tom Thomson: Painter,” in Tom Thomson, ed. Dennis Reid and Charles C. Hill (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2002), 127.

2. A.Y. Jackson to J.E.H. MacDonald, October 5, 1914, quoted in ibid., 126.

3. Tom Thomson to J.M. MacCallum, October 6, 1914, quoted in Joan Murray, “Tom Thomson’s Letters,” in Reid and Hill, Tom Thomson, 298.

4. Quoted in Hill, “Tom Thomson,” 127.

For the biography on Torben V. Kristiansen, click here.

Estimate: $700,000 - $900,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

Although great care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information posted, errors and omissions may occur. All bids are subject to our Terms and Conditions of Business. Bidders must ensure they have satisfied themselves with the condition of the Lot prior to bidding. Condition reports are available upon request.