Maurice Galbraith Cullen
1866 - 1934
The Ferry, Quebec
oil on canvas
signed and dated 1904 and on verso titled on the gallery label, inscribed "no. 6629" and certified by the Cullen Inventory #824
23 5/8 x 28 3/4 po 60 x 73 cm
Estimation : $150,000 - $250,000
Vendu pour : $409,250
Exposition à : Heffel Toronto – 13 avenue Hazelton
Acquired directly from the Artist by a Private Collection
By descent to a Private Collection, Vancouver
Heffel Gallery Limited, Vancouver
Acquired from the above by the present Private Collection, Vancouver, 2002
Hughes de Jouvancourt, Maurice Cullen, 1978, reproduced page 9, titled as Quebec from Lévis, Harmony in Blue
Crystal S. Parsons, Maurice Cullen and His Circle, National Gallery of Canada, 2009, a similar circa 1905 canvas entitled Winter Evening, Quebec, in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada, reproduced page 8
The view of Quebec City from Lévis across the wide St. Lawrence River was a classic image for Maurice Cullen, especially scenes including the ferry that crossed between the two centres. In these scenes he also captured the highly picturesque profile of Quebec City at the top of the cliff, with its striking historic buildings such as the Citadel, the Seminary and Notre-Dame Cathedral. This view was also a popular subject for other artists, such as Cullen’s fellow Canadian Impressionist James Wilson Morrice, whose well-known painting The Ferry, 1907 (in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada), depicts the train station at Lévis in the foreground and, in the background, Cap Diamant.
Cullen had studied in France at a time when the Impressionists were changing the art world. In 1895, he was living and painting at 8 rue Milton in Paris. He was elected an associate member of the Société nationale des Beaux-Arts and had shown his work at the Paris Salon. However, that same year he was drawn back to Montreal, bringing with him the groundbreaking new movement that had so strongly influenced him in France. Cullen’s espousal of Impressionist tenets contributed to disrupting the dominant influence of European art over art buyers in Canada – who were collecting Dutch genre painting and works of the Barbizon School, with their dark colours and foreign subjects. Cullen would transform his Quebec scenes by making atmosphere the focus, and depicting the clarity and freshness of Canadian light with a pastel palette.
For Cullen, this view of Quebec City, which he painted in all seasons, offered many fine opportunities to depict atmosphere and light. Here the effects of air and water, in the misty ambience and softly shifting river currents, are a counterpoint to Quebec City’s shadowed land mass and buildings. Plumes of smoke from the ferry in the foreground and the ship in the background coil sinuously to the side and then upwards, giving a sense of movement and spatial perspective. Cullen shows his expert handling of composition by using the darkened land to highlight the pale smoke of the background ferry, and the golden, reflected sun to contrast with the smouldering exhalation of the ferry nearest to the viewer. His palette of predominantly blue tones is the perfect foil for the gold hues.
In The Ferry, Quebec, Cullen inspires in us a heightened sensitivity to and appreciation for the special atmospheres of Quebec. He captured the ephemeral impressions of the scene rather than an exacting and scientific reproduction of its appearance. As Paul Cézanne once stated, “Painting from nature is not copying the object, it is realizing sensations.” Cullen provides enough detail to let us know exactly where we are, but makes the feeling of being there the most important element. Cullen sketched in all weather and seasons and at all hours of the day and night to capture the subtleties of light and air in his sketches, bringing what he absorbed back to the studio to execute canvases such as this extraordinary work. He imparts a sublime beauty to our experience of the scene, particularly through his vision of the spectacular sky, with its sweeping, curved motion, and the glorious golden light that breaks through the clouds and spills down in a gleaming path across the water.
Estimation : $150,000 - $250,000
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