National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Annual Bulletin 2, 1978-1979

Annual Index
Author & Subject

Click figure 8 here for an enlarged image

Click figure 9 here for an enlarged image

Click figure 10 here for an enlarged image

Click figure 11 here for an enlarged image

Click figure 12 here for an enlarged image

Click figure 13 here for an enlarged image

Click figure 14 here for an enlarged image

Click figure 15 here for an enlarged image

Click figure 16 here for an enlarged image

Click figure 17 here for an enlarged image

A. Y. Jackson in France, Belgium and Holland:
A 1909 Sketch book

by Rosemarie L. Tovell 

Pages  1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5   

The Tonal Coding System

The crude beginnings of another working method can be seen developing in the sketchbook. Almost all of Jackson's mature pencil sketches have a numbered tonal code designed for quick recording of a subject that could later be worked up in oil. The code was useful to Jackson when circumstances did not permit him to make oil sketches on the spot. The numbers range from 1 (lightest or white) to 10 (darkest or black). A landscape of trees and what is probably the village of Episy, on page 5 recto (fig. 1), has all the colours written out in long hand. The result is rather cumbersome, with arrows pointing to areas to which the colour notation applies. The drawing of the windmill at night on page 32 recto (fig. 15) shows both the colour noted in long hand and tones in numbered code. The study of the windmill on page 1 verso (fig. 16) shows only the code, but in this case Jackson is working out only the broad areas. By comparing the study of the windmill with the oil painting, Dutch Windmill at Night (fig. 17), we can see that the code records only general values (i.e. light to dark) without the inclusion of the general tones (i.e. shades of a particular colour) that Jackson later incorporated into the system.

This is not the first time A. Y. Jackson used the numbered code. A drawing dated c. 1907, of a park in Paris (NGC collection) is inscribed with the code. The sketchbook, however, indicates that by 1909 Jackson was beginning to use it extensively, though he had not perfected it.

Drawings Preliminary to Canvases

The 1909 sketchbook is rich in preliminary drawings for paintings of Dutch and French subjects done that year. Jackson's working methods are brought to light further when the drawings are examined in conjunction with what we know of these paintings.

The seven drawings of the Goote Kerk, Veere, are studies for what were meant to be two separate works in oil. In the first series, the cathedral is seen from the southwest corner. Three studies are found in what seems to be chronological order, on pages 30 recto, 28 verso and 33 recto (figs 8, 9, 10); two small studies are found on page 23 verso (fig. 11). The drawing on page 30 recto (fig. 8) is a highly-finished study of the church; the artist has observed and recorded the details that make this cathedral different from all others. The drawings, on page 28 verso (fig. 9), which is perhaps the next drawing in the series, is a detailed study of the exterior walls of the tower and the southwest chapel. In the drawing on page 33 recto (fig. 10), the cathedral is pushed further into the distance and the details are reduced to a minimum, so that the drawing is more a study of light and form. This is the drawing Jackson remembered as coming "closest to the painting which was probably destroyed." (21) The studies on page 23 verso (fig. 11) confirm Jackson's memory for they show two framed examples, probably made in his studio, of the page 33 recto (fig. 10) composition with notations on colour and tone changes ("carry up red," "less blue") indicating that a rendering in oil was well underway. The figures on this sheet are probably also preparations for this oil, since they are remarkably similar to the two foreground figures on the page 33 recto drawing and since they also have colour notations ("blue skirt," "green bucket").

In the second series, or perhaps first series - the order is impossible to determine - the cathedral is viewed from the northwest corner. The two drawings are found on pages 25 recto and 18 verso (figs 12 and 13) with value notations on page 20 recto (fig. 7). The page 25 recto (fig. 12) drawing is another careful study of the architectural details, drawn during the day. It is followed chronologically by the drawing on page 18 verso (fig. 13). This drawing shows value notations ("top slightly darker", "lighter," "less difference") indicating that the oil - which has not been located, and probably has been destroyed - was well underway. The awkwardness of this drawing, for example the inaccurate attempts at shading, seems to indicate that it was made on the spot at night. The time the second drawing was made is underlined by the existence of value notations on page 20 recto (fig. 7). These notations, written over a slight drawing, clearly were meant for a dimly-lit church subject. The notations were probably made separately on the nearest and most convenient page since Jackson would not have been able to see well enough in the dark to place them appropriately on the drawing (fig. 13). As in the first series of cathedral drawings, A. Y. Jackson reduces the subject from detailed study to sculptural mass.

A similar breakdown from specific, accurate rendering to studies of pure light, form, and atmosphere can be seen in the drawings for Dutch Windmill by Night, on pages 26 recto, 32 recto, and 1 verso (figs 14, 15, 16).

These three separate series of drawings show us several ways in which A. Y. Jackson worked. The drawings such as those on pages 25 recto, 30 recto, 33 recto and 26 recto (figs 12, 8, 10 and 14) render the subject as it was first seen, and include perhaps, a few ideas for a possible reworking in oil. The drawings have no colour notations, which indicates they were done before it was time for Jackson to concern himself with colour, for the purpose of an oil sketch for example. The other drawings, such as those on pages 18 verso, 32 recto and 1 verso (figs 13, 15 and 16), show that if further studies were to be done on the spot, especially at night, then the drawings served as quick notes to "push" the oil along. Such drawings could also be done in the studio if the rethinking of a composition was minor and did not require an oil sketch, as the drawing on page 23 verso (fig. 11) may indicate.

The canvas of the southwest view of the Groote Kerk is now lost, as is the oil sketch of the northwest view. From the colour notes that can be deciphered, the paintings seem to have been relatively dark, concentrating on the mass of the cathedral and its silhouette against a sombre blue sky.

The total effect must have been very close to the oil sketch Dutch Windmill by Night (fig. 17) painted at the same time and also based on a series of drawings in the sketch book. In this oil sketch, for which there probably never was a canvas, Jackson shows his debt to contemporary Dutch artists such as Mauve and the Maris brothers, whose work he went to see as the Rijksmuseum. The oil sketch is remarkably close to the drawing on page 32 recto (fig. 15) and, based on the amount of value coding, was probably worked up from that drawing alone. Considering the final form the cathedral and windmill took in oil and pencil, and looking at the first detailed drawings, it is obvious that A. Y. felt he had to capture every nuance of his subject before he could reduce or abstract it with any degree of confidence or integrity.

Next Page | pages 35 recto and 35 verso

1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5

Top of this page

Home | Français | Introduction | History
Annual Index | Author & Subject | Credits | Contact

This digital collection was produced under contract to Canada's Digital Collections program, Industry Canada.

"Digital Collections Program, Copyright © National Gallery of Canada 2001"