“Melbourne, Upper Township” by Frederick Simpson Coburn

By: Dara Vandor

Lot 48 – Frederick Simpson Coburn, RCA (1871-1960), MELBOURNE, UPPER TOWNSHIP, 1932. Oil on canvas; signed and dated “32” lower left. 14.25 x 25 in — 36.2 x 63.5 cm. Estimate $8,000-$12,000

Frederick Simpson Coburn was born in Upper Melbourne in the Eastern Townships, the same village that provides the setting for this painting. The artist travelled extensively throughout his career, living and working in the United States, Germany, France, England, Belgium, and Holland, all well before this painting was made. There is a wonderful sense of Coburn’s world turning full circle, as the artist applies the aesthetic lessons he learned abroad to paint this domestic scene many years later in his career. Coburn would settle in Upper Melbourne with his wife, Belgian artist Malvina Scheepers, while also keeping a pied-à-terre in Montreal.

Despite his globetrotting, Coburn never lost touch with his roots in Quebec. At certain points in his career, Coburn supported himself as an illustrator, establishing his reputation with the 1897 publication of the illustrated volume of W. H. Drummond’s The Habitant. Coburn spent weeks immersed in Habitant culture, spending time living with various families to understand their way of life and provide a foundation for his illustrations. Further assignments illustrating Canadian scenes for books and magazine covers provided the income Coburn required to finance his years of European study.

Winter scenes were a particular speciality of the artist, particularly those with horses, Coburn’s “first and greatest love.”[1] Evelyn Lloyd Coburn, writing for the McMaster Museum of Art, writes that “Frederick Simpson Coburn’s paintings of horses hauling logs through snowy woodlands, and bright red sleighs down sunny country roads captured the spirit of an era. Since the late 1920s his winter scenes have appeared regularly on Christmas cards and calendars because, as one collector remarked, “The title of his canvas is ‘Canada’.”[2]

Public demand for these winter scenes was unrelenting, and Coburn, ever the craftsman, worked hard to perfect the subject. In his book, Canadian Art: Its Origin and Development (1943), William Colgate wrote: “today, scarcely a Canadian painter enjoys a higher reputation…. He evidently regards a subject as an opportunity to produce effects of light and subtle colour harmonies.”[3]

About the auction

Held online from May 24-29, 2024, our spring auction of Canadian and International Fine Art brings together exceptional work from around the world. This auction features celebrated Canadian artists such as Cornelius Krieghoff, A.Y. Jackson, P.C. Sheppard, A.J. Casson, Bertram Booker, Alexandra Luke, Jean Paul Lemieux and Yves Gaucher as well as important First Nations artists Norval Morrisseau, Roy Thomas and Alex Janvier. International highlights include work by Jules Olitski, Karel Appel, Kwon Young-Woo, Norman Bluhm, Józef Bakoś, Léon Lhermitte and Montague Dawson.

View the gallery and browse the downloadable digital catalogue.

Previews will be available at our Toronto gallery, located at 275 King Street East, Second Floor, Toronto:

 Thursday, May 23 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
 Friday, May 24 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
 Saturday, May 25 from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm
 Sunday, May 26 from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm
 Monday, May 27 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
 Tuesday, May 28 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm

Or by appointment.

Please contact us to find out more.


[1] Gerald Stevens quoted in Evelyn Lloyd Coburn, Frederick Simpson Coburn. McMaster Museum of Art eMuseum, accessed 2 April 2024. https://emuseum.mcmaster.ca/emuseum/people/700/coburn-frederick-simpson
[2] Evelyn Lloyd Coburn, ibid.
[3] William Colgate quoted in ibid.

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