LOT 112

Alfred Joseph (A.J.) Casson
1898 - 1992

Old Lumber Village
oil on board, circa 1958
signed and on verso signed and titled on various labels
34 x 48 in 86.4 x 121.9 cm

Estimate: $200,000 - $300,000

Sold for: $361,250

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

Roberts Gallery, Toronto
By descent to the present Private Collection, Toronto

Paul Duval, A.J. Casson, His Life & Works: A Tribute, 1980, unpaginated
Ted Herriott, Sunday Morning with Cass: Conversations with A.J. Casson, 1993, page 137

Ontario Society of Artists, Toronto, 87th Annual Exhibition, March 1959
Art Gallery of Hamilton, The New City Hall Purchase Exhibition, January 8 - 31, 1960

A.J. Casson’s identity within the Group of Seven was forged by his depiction of Ontario villages and hamlets and their rural surrounds. During his long career as a commercial artist with Sampson Matthews Limited in Toronto, Casson took every opportunity to head off on weekends and holidays into the countryside. As Paul Duval wrote, “Casson undoubtedly found in the small town theme much that was sympathetic to his own character. The order, simplicity and craftsmanship found in the details of early Ontario architecture are paralleled in his own personality. Casson has never cut baroque swathes across the Canadian Art scene, but quietly cultivated his own special and enduring place in it.”
To facilitate his extensive explorations for his sketching trips, Casson acquired his first car in 1926—a turquoise Willys-Overland Whippet. During his earlier painting excursions with fellow Group member Franklin Carmichael, Casson had discovered how important having a car could be to access new painting places, and the freedom was exhilarating. As well as staying in local hotels and “sketching out” his locale, Casson sometimes simply pulled over to the side of the road, struck by a particular view, and pulled out his paints and panels, executing a fresh, on-the-spot view.
During Casson’s extensive explorations of Ontario villages, he recorded the buildings that made them unique and attracted his eye, from family-run general stores to small churches. Some had a relationship to industry, such as the milling of flour or lumbering. Villages such as the one we see here sprang up around logging activities and mills, built along rivers and waterways. Some of these towns had a transitory life – when the mills closed, they became ghost towns, such as Lemieux or Wye. In Ted Herriott’s interviews with Casson, they discussed the lumber towns. Casson stated, “Up at Baptiste, you could take some of the old roads that went up to the old lumber towns. They’re gone now or there could just be remnants.”
Casson told Herriott that the towns were within five or ten miles from Baptiste, and as he said, “You had to be careful you didn’t get lost. There were a lot more of them up around Combermere – the place was just filled with them. If you have an Ordinance Map you could find them. I made several sketches of the old mills. There’s one I did at Barry’s Bay that’s still there on the waterfront…A lot of them closed up because they ran out of lumber.” Casson went on to describe other locations such as up the Georgian Bay road from Coldwater through Waubaushene, where he stayed at Britt and Key River—rolling rock country that was completely cleared by lumbering. Due to the similarity in topography, this work could be based on Britt, which was a sawmill town on Byng Inlet.
In 1945, the end of World War II brought about in Casson an emotional release and a longing for simplicity. During the war years, his time had been much taken by his work at Sampson Matthews and by committee work. Now, with his time and energy more free, his style took a dramatic new direction. He focused on formal patterns, and his shapes simplified into a strong geometry. Texture was reduced, and design became paramount. A Cubist approach to form was particularly apparent in his skies, as we see here – in cloud formations that split into planes and open into spatial windows.
In this stunning work, Casson does not depict any industrial structures. Instead, we see a village with well-tended houses and, in the centre, a church, the symbol of an enduring community. The setting is simple—rocky outcroppings and green grass that streams around them. A single figure walking reminds us of human activity and balances the formality of the composition. Every element shows surety of balance – in the contrast of organic rounded rock with the geometric shapes of the houses, in the even division of sky, land and water, and in the harmonic repetition of the elements of the composition. There is a tranquil symmetry in the village structures, but also the alive movement of nature in the changing weather and the wind rippling the surface of the water. Old Lumber Village is an exceptional large-scale painting that shows Casson at the height of his abilities in this sophisticated new style.

Estimate: $200,000 - $300,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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