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 

Article en français

Pages  1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  

In 1976, the only remaining bound sketch book by A. Y. Jackson was presented to the National Gallery of Canada in the name of the late Charles Bowlby Clement by the members of his family. (1) The sketch book is, perhaps, the best document of Jackson's working methods, and illuminates the crucial period when he developed from student to mature artist.

The sketch book is important for several reasons. First, it indicates Jackson's activities during the year 1909 at Episy, France, and his little-known trip to Holland and Belgium. When examined in conjunction with Jackson's letters to his mother and sister, one letter to his mother in particular, the sketch book provides a clearer account of Jackson's travels and work between April and November or December, 1909, when he returned to Canada. (2) Secondly, the drawings in the sketch book show a development in Jackson's drawing styles, ranging from detailed academic student work to an increasingly individual style concerned with form and colour. Numbered tonal or value codes used extensively in his mature pencil sketches appear in embryo in the sketch book. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the sketchbook contains preliminary drawings for some of the major 1909 canvases in existence, and for some canvases possibly lost or destroyed.

The sketch book measures 21.8 x 17.5 cm and has fifty-two sheets, of which thirty-nine contain drawings, for a total of fifty-seven illustrations. The hard green cover bears the inscription A. Y. Jackson / 13 rue / de l'Abbé Grégoire / Paris. This is the address of the apartment Jackson shared with two New Zealand art students, Frederick Porter (1883-1944) and Eric Spencer Macky (1880-1958). Jackson lived off and on in this apartment from September 1907 to November or December 1909, after which he returned to Canada.

Activities during 1909

The sketchbook was purchased at Peinture Maison Moreaux, on Boulevard Montparnasse for 1.10 francs, according to a stamp on the inside front cover. Since there are no drawings of Paris in the sketchbook, Jackson probably purchased it just prior to his trip from Paris to Episy (via Moret-sur-Loing) before 3 April 1909. With a few exceptions, the identifiable drawings follow a rough chronological order. That is to say, Jackson used the pages not in exact sequence, but rather in sequential groupings; the drawings within the groupings are out of sequence.

The first group, pages 2 recto to 5 recto of the sketchbook (e.g. fig. 1), appear to be four landscapes of the Episy area on the Canal du Loing near the Forest of Fontainbleau. From the absence of drawings during this first month at Episy, it is possible to deduce that most of Jackson's work was in oil. (3)

Jackson and Porter stayed at the farmhouse of Mme Goix, (4) but by 14 June he was back in Paris to meet his aunt, Miss Geneva Jackson, who was touring through Europe. Jackson stayed in Paris until Thursday, 1 July, when he took the overnight train from Paris to Antwerp (via Brussels), arriving in Antwerp on Friday morning. (5)

The first day in Antwerp was spent sightseeing, sleeping in the park, and visiting the zoo. On Saturday morning, one attempt at sketching led nowhere as he was ill. Sunday he went to the museums and on Monday, "felt quite well again, and started to sketch." (6) The only drawing that can be positively identified as depicting Antwerp is a meticulous study of Notre Dame Cathedral (p. 9r) (fig. 2). A detail drawing of gothic windows (p. 6r) is likely to be of the cathedral, and a landscape drawing on page 7 recto may possibly have been drawn during the Saturday afternoon outing when A. Y. took the ferry to Holland across the Escaut River. (7)

On Tuesday, 6 July, Jackson arrived in Dordrecht. "It started to rain while I was in the train...for the first three days it hardly stopped at all. I went sightseeing in the rain. It is a pretty little town though almost too tidy and cleaned up for sketching...the people are awfully inquisitive, you couldn't sharpen a pencil without fifty of them milling round....Managed to make a few sketches but nothing much, had to hold the umbrella up at the same time, which is no easy job." (8) An English artist whom A. Y. had met at Étaples (Pas-de-Calais) the previous year, mentioned only as Hardy, was also in Dordrecht and later joined Jackson in Katwijk aan Rijn.

No drawing in the sketchbook can be positively said to depict Dordrecht. However, pages 13 recto to 16 recto contain a series of drawings and notes on the depiction of wind directions and the consequent effect on sailboats (e.g. fig. 3). In 1966, Jackson remembered these drawings as having been copied from a book on marine painting. The sure rendering of unfamiliar sailing vessels and the sea seems to support Jackson's recollection. It is possible the text was also copied from this book since the handwriting does not have Jackson's natural flow. Considering the inclement weather during Jackson's stay in Dordrecht and the position of the drawings in the sketch book, it is likely that they were done in his hotel room. (9) If A. Y. did actually sharpen his pencil and do some drawing, then the only sketch that could possibly be a Dordrecht subject is a sheet of figure studies on page 10 recto.

*All drawings are illustrated from the 1909 sketch book. Medium: graphite on wove paper. Dimensions: 21.8 x 17.5 cm. Descriptive titles appear in Roman type, proper titles in italics.

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