Mon propos, en isolant un motif donné dans trois tableaux peints entre 1909 et 1912 par trois artistes canadiens, est d'attirer l'attention sur un élément récurrent particulièrement significatif pour définir la modernité au Canada et une transition importante dans la conception de l'art du paysage canadien. Ce découpage favorisera, je l'espère, une périodisation plus nette dans l'analyse du paysage et fournira des éléments pour interpréter les transitions dans ce genre entre la fin du XIXe siècle, tel qu'étudié par Dennis Reid, et les trop célèbres années 1920, marquées par l'omniprésence du Groupe des Sept. En suggérant certaines interprétations, j'assumerai cependant une position symétrique à mon sujet et, en jetant un éclairage particulier sur une question, je créerai d'autres zones d'ombre.
Remarks on Canadian Landscape Painting Before the Group of Seven
The motif of the cast shadow seems particularly popular in Canadian painting between 1900 and 1920, and it can be interpreted solely in its decorative and formal terms. The appearance and frequency of this theme, however, lead me to propose a more fundamental reading that works on a number of different levels. Three specific paintings may be addressed in this context: Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté's Settlement on the Hillside (1909, National Gallery of Canada); A.Y. Jackson's Edge of the Maplewood (1910, National Gallery of Canada); J.E.H. MacDonald's Morning Shadows (1912, Art Gallery of Ontario). My interpretations of the motif are predicated on socio-political and psychological considerations, and employ elements borrowed from the analysis of cultural discourse, semiology and psychoanalysis.
Paterson Ewen turned from "abstract" or non-figurative painting to figurative painting in 1970. After over 20 years of modernist non-figurative painting he acknowledged and found valuable the presence of subject-matter which, in Montréal during the 1950's and 1960's, had been condemned as traditional, illusory, sentimental and regressive. To stress the formal drama of Ewen's "turn," however, is to overlook the most important aspect of his new figurative paintings: a change in attitude from one of denial and exclusion to one of acceptance and tolerance. Ewen had resisted the idea of abstraction, the gradual erosion of all subjects other than the absolute freedom of form, as a matter of degree, throughout most of his career in non-figurative painting. But by 1970 he fully accepted abstraction as a matter of kind: an approach to painting in which the subject and the object were perceived as not only indivisible but also unquantifiable. Ewen's "turn" cannot be seen as a shocking avant-garde revolution of form nor as a return to his early figurative work of 1949–54. In his figurative and non-figurative work before 1970, Ewen believed that freedom in painting required the domination of the object over subject-matter. In his "turn," Ewen implicitly criticized this belief integral to the concept of style and the avant-garde mentality.
Notes and Commentary
In 1908 the Canadian painter J.W. Beatty (1869-1941) was commissioned by the Rosedale League for School Art to produce a mural for the kindergarten/ assembly room of Rosedale Public School in Toronto. Completed in 1910, the room was described a few years later by the Toronto Star as "the most beautiful schoolroom in Canada." The mural is composed of three panels presenting school children in a number of clearly pleasant seasonal activities within landscape settings. In Spring children and a teacher attend the annual picnic in the nearby Don Valley; in Summer children and adults take a rest during the harvesting of the grain. Autumn shows a young girl walking with an older woman between pumpkins and sheaves of corn, while to the right a boy of the same age offers a bouquet of fall flowers to two senior members of his community.
Janet Brooke's catalogue presents a valuable and original contribution to art historical studies of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century art, and more specifically to the study of patronage in Montréal at the turn of the century. However, the installation and arrangement of the exhibition left high expectations unfulfilled. In fact, the layout of the "Montreal Collectors" exhibition created a kind of confusion that made the catalogue an indispensible item. Some minor works, such as the Doré landscape, were given ample space in the largest room of the exhibition. Some of the more extraordinary pictures such as those by Degas, Whistler and Turner were hung in cramped quarters in one of the smaller rooms off the main stairway. Conversely, at the "Ernest Cormier et l'Université de Montréal" exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, the visitor was visually introduced to the architect's work, not only his university buildings and working methods, but also his atelier, and private life. Along with plans, elevations and drawings, his drafting instruments and a portion of his library were on display, all in an ample setting which helped establish the idea that this was a show of considerable importance.