The Role of Public Sales in the Rapidly Developing Montreal Art Market from 1869 to 1900
The Case of W. Scott & Sons
Until the 1880s, the public auction was the primary method of selling artworks in Montreal. By the mid 1870s, however, the auctioneer's control of the art market had become increasingly contested by a different type of merchant who had been dealing in pictures for some time. After the 1760 Conquest, carvers and gilders, working as craftsmen and picture-framers on the free market also sold engravings and cabinet pictures. William Scott (1831–1904), was one of these carver-gilders. He had arrived in Montreal from Britain in 1859 and soon began competing with auctioneers. In 1862, Scott's firm organized its first-known public sale of mirrors and prints at the Mechanics' Institute on Great St. James Street, a few blocks away from his own premises on Victoria Square, in the heart of Montreal's business district. Within two decades, Scott moved from being a picture framer to an art dealer, selling decorative art and furniture along with paintings and prints and thereby occupying a unique position in Montreal. From 1875 to 1887, he organized large annual public sales, consisting mainly of paintings and watercolours by contemporary European artists. He imported pictures directly from France and England, and thus bypassed the agents and importers who usually controlled access to the Montreal market. Scott himself evaluated the quality of the works he would promote as his clients preferred more select objects than those found in the regular sales of imported art. The paintings he typically judged of "superior quality" were academic paintings that had gained recognition at the Paris Salons.