oil on glass
signed with initials
3 ins x 3 ins; 7.5 cms x 7.5 cms
Price Includes Buyer's Premium
“River Scene” is an unlikely convergence of medium and artist. Tom Thomson, whom we frequently associate with painting in oil on board or canvas, once painted on glass. He only essayed the medium once, but chose to depict on it a spacious landscape, a view into the distance from the shoreline of a body of water. The painting seems, at first, more related to his work as a mature artist, than to his early development. However, the detail with which Thomson painted the foliage on the trees returns the viewer to the recognition of the probable early date.
In approximately 1904 or 1905, Thomson had returned to Owen Sound after a stint spent in the United States, studying and working. By 1905, he was working in Toronto with Legg Brothers, Photo Engravers, and around 1909, moved to the firm of Grip Limited. During this period, Thomson is believed to have attended the Central Ontario School of Art and Industrial Design in Toronto, perhaps taking an evening class, since he worked during the day. In 1907, Thomson painted in oil, and his work was commented on favorably by his teacher, the artist William Cruikshank.
Thomson’s artwork prior to 1911, when he began to develop into an artist with a new identity and history, consists of drawings, watercolours and decorative, illuminated texts. The subjects vary from figures and portraits, often of family members, to landscapes painted around Leith and Owen Sound, and in the country surrounding Toronto. The media employed by Thomson during this period varied, from pencil and ink to chalk, watercolour and oil. The resulting artwork indicates the painter’s competence and often a knowledge of the Arts and Crafts movement, of which he had likely learned through his commercial work.
This masterful work on glass, with its fine sense of design and deft handling of depth, seems to be part and parcel of the same moment in the artist’s development. Thomson's fertile imagination likely conjured the trees that criss-cross at right, a motif he would use in later "decorative" works. Yet there is something about the way he created the work, a wry and resourceful method of tackling the scene which is a sign of the later man.
Amy Barnard was a fellow student of Thomson’s at the Central Ontario School in Toronto, accompanying the artist on field trips (according to a letter from Judi Barnard Koysam, dated October 18, 2003). “River Scene” was a gift to Barnard from Thomson. In a sense, the painting is a student work, but one painted by a person with ambition, painting like mad towards the goal of becoming a full-time artist. Although tiny, the viewer senses in its refinement and originality, a "seeker”. “River Scene” is painted with exquisite care and naturally, since it is painted on glass, it is luminous, proof that Thomson, even at this early date, knew that if he worked hard enough and painted enough, he would be onto a genuinely fresh story.
This work will be included in Joan Murray’s forthcoming catalogue raisonne of the artist’s work.
We would like to thank art historian, Joan Murray, for contributing the foregoing essay.
This lot is accompanied with a photocopy of a handwritten note, describing the early ownership history of “River Scene”, by Judi Barnard Koysam, granddaughter of Amy Barnard.
Amy Barnard (née Turbayne), Toronto.
Judi Barnard Koysam, Toronto.
Private Collection, Ontario.
Department: Canadian Fine Art