James Wilson Morrice
1865 - 1924
La petite plage de St-Malo
oil on panel, circa 1899 - 1901
signed and on verso titled "Plage" and inscribed "Collection Jacques Rouché. Janvier 1952, après la division des tableaux de W. Morrice" on a label
7 x 9 7/8 in 17.8 x 25.1 cm
Estimate: $80,000 - $120,000
Sold for: $481,250
Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave
Collection of Jacques Rouché (1862 - 1957), France
By descent to a Private Collection, France
Private Collection, France
Donald W. Buchanan, James Wilson Morrice: A Biography, 1936, pages 102 and 103
Donald W. Buchanan, James Wilson Morrice, 1947, the painting View of Paramé from the Beach reproduced page 11
Galerie Simonson, Paris, Tableaux et études par James Wilson Morrice, January 9 - 23, 1926, titled as Petite Place à Saint-Malo [sic], catalogue #13
This exquisite pochade by internationally acclaimed Canadian Impressionist James Wilson Morrice depicts one of his favourite subjects – dreamy French beaches such as this one, the Plage du Sillon at Saint-Malo. This beach just east of the walled town is long, stretching towards the suburb of Paramé, and it is the view towards Paramé that we see here, showing the distinctive wooden posts of a breakwater backed by a retaining wall. A similar subject entitled La ville de St. Malo is in the collection of the New Brunswick Museum. That work includes the old Saint-Malo Casino (since rebuilt), but in our painting it appears as only a shadowy form.
Morrice traveled to Saint-Malo many times, beginning in 1890 during his first trip to France. In 1896 he was based in Cancale but sketched in Saint-Malo, and from 1898 to 1904 he went every year, usually at the end of August and for most of September, after tourists had departed. He produced sketches and large canvases from these trips. Morrice scholar Lucie Dorais notes that “at first Morrice looked toward the city, the old walls and the people on the beach, then around 1901 to 1902, he turned his gaze towards the sea and its regatta.” Thus our sketch has a circa date of 1899 to 1901.
This is a classic Impressionist subject—people with the means to enjoy leisure luxuriating on a sun-drenched summer day. Morrice includes his typical motifs, such as the well-dressed ladies with parasols sitting on their portable chairs and the distant bathing tents. In the background is the historic architecture of the town’s buildings. Morrice’s masterful skill in so effortlessly capturing the ambience of the scene in a 7 x 9 inch oil pochade is astonishing. Executed on the spot, as the tenets of Impressionism dictate, his fluid brushwork defines the details of the scene with a rich palette. The sand is golden, the tide pools turquoise and the sky a bright blue, with a pastel cloud entering on the left glowing with pink, mauve and peach. Most importantly, Morrice makes us feel the pleasurable sensations of the beautiful sunny day, as we imagine a light sea breeze caressing the beach.
As there are great artists, so too there are great collectors. This work was previously in the collection of Jacques Rouché (1862 - 1957), one of three well-known early Parisian collectors of Morrice’s work, along with Charles Pacquement and André Schoeller. Rouché made his fortune in the perfume business after he married the heiress of the celebrated Parisian perfumery L.T. Piver. As well as being an art collector, he was also a patron of music – he managed the Théâtre des Arts and in 1914 was asked to direct the Paris Opera, which he continued to do until 1945. In 2007, an exhibition about his tenure there was mounted in the Bibliothèque nationale de France entitled La modernité à l’Opéra: Jacques Rouché (1914 - 1945).
Although it is difficult to know the extent of Rouché’s Morrice collection, he possessed at least eight or nine works, including four great canvases mentioned in the book Peintres de races by Marius-Ary Leblond in 1909. He may have acquired his first canvas at the 1903 Salon de la Société Nationale, and others may have been purchased directly from the artist. Rouché owned the largest canvas version of The Beach, St. Malo (32 x 45 inches), circa 1900, now in the Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Donald Buchanan noted that Rouché “bought the works of Morrice in preference to those of other artists. Rouché entertained lavishly. Painters [including Morrice], authors and musicians frequented his receptions; in his mansion on the Rue de Prony in the wealthy quarter near the Parc Monceau they saw canvases by the Canadian of St. Malo, of Concarneau, of the banks of the Seine.”
We thank Lucie Dorais for her assistance in cataloguing and researching this work. This painting is included in the catalogue raisonné on the artist’s work that is being compiled by Dorais.
Estimate: $80,000 - $120,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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