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

Annual Bulletin 2, 1978-1979

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

by Rosemarie L. Tovell

Pages  1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5     

On pages 35 recto and 35 verso (figs 18 and 19) are two drawings of the Canal du Loing near Episy, drawn during the fall months of 1909. They are studies for one of the major 1909 canvases, the Canal du Loing (fig. 20). (22) The subject of the painting probably originated with the detail drawing of the barge on page 35 recto (fig. 18). From the relative abundance of foliage on the trees, it is evident that this drawing was clone a week or so earlier than the drawing on page 35 verso (fig. 19) where the bare trees are similar to those in the oil. Jackson remembered having painted the canvas out of doors, so the drawings were likely used as aids for detail and composition in completing the painting. The two drawings have no colour or tonal notations, which further supports this theory.

What is perhaps the most interesting painting done in 1909, October Morning, Episy (fig. 21), is also represented in the sketchbook. The painting, a studio work, marks a major advance in the artist's oeuvre, heralding the famous Edge of the Maple Wood of 1910, which brought A. Y. to the attention of Lawren Harris and other future members of the Croup of Seven. Like Edge of the Maple Wood, October Morning, Episy concentrates on the light and shadows flickering across the foreground and tree trunks. Although in October Morning, Episy the paint is not applied with the same impasto, nor is the composition as startling, still the colour, tones and subject matter are remarkably similar to the 1910 canvas.

October Morning, Episy probably started with an oil sketch. The drawing on page 34 recto (fig. 22) may also be a studio piece, used to work out the details of the composition and subject matter. The similarity of details such as the tree branches, indicates that the drawing was used to "push", the painting along. The three-sided frame drawn around the pencil study is typical of drawings made by A. Y. after the first impression had been rendered and he already knew what the limits of the composition were to be.

It is possible that other drawings in the sketchbook served as preliminary compositions for paintings. If so, we may never know for, like the paintings of the Groote Kerk, Veere, they were probably either destroyed by the artist or lost. The sketch book can only give us an indication of what might have been.

The Sketchbook After 1909

Once back in Canada, Jackson used his sketchbook sparingly. Jackson was back in Montreal by Christmas 1909, for a family reunion. In June 1910 he visited his aunts, Miss Geneva Jackson and Mrs Isabella in Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario. He took along the sketchbook and some of the 1909 paintings. When A. Y. arrived, his aunts were in the middle of a major renovation of their home. As his contribution to the effort, A. Y. painted a frieze on the walls of his Aunt Geneva's bedroom. The subjects of the Kitchener decoration, now destroyed, were roof tops, sheep, and the Antwerp Cathedral. He may have used some of the drawings in the sketchbook as reference material, but most of the subjects seem to have come from postcards such as the one depicting sheep that he had sent to his mother from Europe and then asked her to send on to him in Kitchener. (23)

Two sheets in the sketchbook may suggest that the idea of the Kitchener decoration was not a spur-of-the-moment whim on Jackson's part. The drawings on these pages (31v and 38r; see fig. 23) are three-and-four-strip drawings of seascapes and the Dutch coast. Their overall composition and style suggest some sort of decorative purpose. But there is no clue as to their purpose in Jackson's correspondence of the period, and all that can be said of these two sheets of drawings is that they seem to be interesting prefigurations of the Kitchener frieze.

During his stay at Kitchener, Jackson met another branch of the family, the E. P. Clements, including his second cousin Charles Bowlby Clement. The Clements invited Jackson to their summer cottage at Portage Point on Georgian Bay, where Jackson stayed from late June through July. During his first visit to Georgian Bay, in July 1909, Jackson wrote: "It's a great country to have a holiday in...but it's nothing but little islands covered with scrub and pine trees, and not quite paintable....Sketching simply won't go." (24) When Jackson left the Clements' cottage, the sketch book remained behind with the Clement family who farsightedly kept it intact.

This sketchbook thus escaped the fate of the others in Jackson's possession; they were broken up, and the drawings were given away or sold. The one drawing known to be lost from this 1909 sketchbook may have been a gift to family or friends, or simply thrown away. As this important sketchbook was safely in the care of Charles Bowlby Clement and his descendants, it remains the only virtually complete sketch book by A. Y. Jackson.

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