Your Collection: Logging (1888) by George A. Reid (1860–1947)
George A. Reid, Logging (1888), oil on canvas, 107.4 x 194 x 2.3 cm. NGC. Transfer from Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, 2011, gift of the Brig. Gen. W.F. Sweny, C.M.G., D.S.O., in memory of his father Col. George A. Sweny, 1938
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Although it depicts an iconic Canadian activity, Logging was actually inspired and completed abroad. In 1888, when George A. Reid and his wife were living in Paris, Reid happened upon a lumberyard near his studio. The large logs reminded the artist of his rural Canadian home, and he began producing sketches for a painting.
Born in Wingham, Ontario, Reid had grown up on a farm. While he participated in all aspects of rural life, young George was more interested in drawing.
Despite his father’s attempts to steer him towards a career in architecture, by 1878 Reid was studying art in Toronto with Charlotte Schreiber and Robert Harris. Four years later, he moved to Philadelphia to study with Thomas Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. It was here that Reid met artist Mary Hiester, whom he would marry in 1885.
By mid-1888, George and Mary had moved to Paris, where they remained for a year, furthering their studies. In the Paris lumberyard, George made some pen-and-ink studies in a sketchbook he carried around with him. Several of these sketches are now in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Interestingly, one of these sketches would become a work on its own. Study after “Logging” (1889) — on view with Logging in the Canadian Art galleries at the National Gallery — features a man whose pose is readily recognizable in Reid’s final work. For years, it was believed that this small study was completed before Logging; instead, it was completed a year later, recalling a detail Reid had especially liked in the larger canvas.
Based on oil sketches Reid painted on paper, we know that he reworked the composition for Logging a number of times. A large stump was removed from the foreground, and the original setting gradually changed from a lush forest-like environment to something far bleaker. He also pushed details such as the oxen farther into the background, and restructured the central group, resulting in a much more powerful image.
Although contemporary viewers might see the blasted landscape as a cautionary ecological tale, for Reid it represented a childhood memory: “[The] farms were cleared by the heaping together of the great and small logs and brush, and then burned. [...] In my childhood I had only faint memories of these [logging] Bees, but the last ten-acre field of my father’s farm to be so logged is so distinct a memory that I [used it as] the setting for my picture.”
Logging was originally purchased in 1892 by Colonel Sweny of Toronto, and remained in the Sweny family for almost 50 years. In 1938, it was presented to Canada House in London by Brigadier General Sweny, thus becoming the property of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.
For decades the painting hung at Canada House, where National Gallery curator Charlie Hill first saw it in 2003. In 2011, it was transferred to the National Gallery.
At some point the painting suffered a tear. This which necessitated that the canvas be lined, at which time the tacking margins — the original canvas edges attaching the canvas to the stretcher — were cut off. Old photographs confirm that there was no loss of the actual painted image. The frame is original.
Later in life, Reid became president of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, and an outspoken advocate for the integration of the arts. Not only did he petition the federal government on “the importance and usefulness of a National Gallery,” but also became a leading proponent of mural paintings in Canadian buildings. Ave Canada (1907–1918), which can be seen in the Gallery, is a proposed decoration for the entrance hall of the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. In addition to painting, Reid illustrated books, and designed buildings and furniture — such as Music Cabinet (1905) and Piano and Piano Bench (1900), which were originally in his Toronto home, and are now on display in the Canadian galleries.
Logging by George Reid is currently on view in the Canadian galleries at the National Gallery of Canada, along with other iconic works by Reid such as Mortgaging the Homestead (1891), Portrait of Mary Hiester Reid (1885), and Study for “Foreclosure of the Mortgage” (1892). For more on Reid and his work, please click here.