Friday, 16 May 2014



I recently noticed that since I have started writing this blog over half a dozen of them mention James W. Morrice in some capacity. Clearly I am of the belief that Morrice is one of the most significant artists in Canadian art history. I thought about writing a blog fully devoted to Morrice, but there is already such thorough biographical and career-related material available that it would end up being repetitive. I decided that instead of writing solely about Morrice I would pick another topic that includes his work. I am especially keen to honour his work at the moment because he is featured in an exhibition at the Musee des Beaux-Arts du Quebec.

J.W. Morrice View Towards the Beach, Tangiers 1913 oil on canvas (Past highlight of Masters Gallery)

The other artist featured in the same Quebec exhibition is John Lyman. I have not as of yet included this artist in a blog, but I very much appreciate the work of Lyman. I particularly enjoy his beach scenes, and I feel that they rank right up with the best modern Canadian artists of his time. He was truly in his element when depicting his observations of beach culture. His work was modern and foreward thinking during his time, but to me the beach scenes have a timeless neo-impressionistic quality.

John Lyman On the Beach (St. Jean-de-Luz)1929 I and II oil on panel (x2)(National Gallery of Canada)

In fact, there are many beach scene paintings by historical Canadian artists that I deem to be superb works of art. Therefore I have decided to dedicate this blog to highlighting some of them from Masters Gallery and from major public collections. As some of Morrice’s great works were fabulous beach scenes, I am still incorporating him into the blog.

J.E.H. MacDonald Sandy Beach 1918 oil on panel (Past highlight of Masters Gallery)

The fascination with the beach as a leisure pursuit was a novelty available to an increasingly large number of people during the relatively peaceful and prosperous period of the second half of the nineteenth century through until the start of the First World War. The growing middle class could afford the time and expense of taking leisurely trips to the beach locally or further afield at one of the growing number of vacation resorts in places such as Brittany and Normandy in France Lake Como in Italy or Cornwall in England. Why not paint scenes that present happiness and pleasure? Both good pastimes and beautiful landscapes could be celebrated at once through painting on the beach.

Clarence Gagnon Plage de St. Enogat, Brittany, France 1908 oil on panel (Past highlight of Masters Gallery)

Artists could also celebrate the youthful innocence and joys of childhood and motherhood through imagery of women and children at play and at pleasure on the beach. Late Victorian and Edwardian (or Belle Epoque in France) Society was newly conscious and taken with the concept of childhood and the endearing innocence it could hold. Being very much part of their epoch the painters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries enthusiastically confirmed this mentality towards children through angelic depictions of them. The beach was a perfect setting for this, and many Canadian and European painters placed figures of women and children exclusively in their painted beaches.

Helen McNicoll By the Lake oil on canvas (Past Highlight of Masters Gallery)

Leisure time at the beach also opened the doors to a range of new sporting activities for people to try, such as swimming and sailing in addition to sunbathing and playing in the sand. The props used for these activities could be useful to artists, as they could use the sails on sailboats as means of adding colour or helping direct the composition harmoniously. The same could be said for the beautiful fabric tents and umbrellas. I enjoy seeing all of the inventive ways that impressionist and post-impressionist artists have utilized beach paraphernalia to enhance their pictures, filling them with bright sails and sand pails, vibrantly striped tents and umbrellas, and so much more.

Sidney Strickland Tully Sailboats oil (Past highlight at Masters Gallery)

Most of the artists whom are referred to as ‘Canadian Impressionists’ travelled to France or England to paint in the midst of the Belle Époque. Some major names include William Brymner, Paul Peel, Blair Bruce, Laura Muntz, George Reid, J.W. Morrice, Marc-Aurele Suzor-Cote, Albert Robinson, William Clapp, Clarence Gagnon, John Russell, AY Jackson, Maurice Cullen, and Helen McNicoll.

One of the first en plein air painters to capture beachside leisure was Eugene Boudin, a forerunner to impressionism. Boudin was followed shortly thereafter by the impressionists, like Claude Monet, and post-impressionists, like Edouard Manet.

Eugene Boudin Plage aux environs de Trouville 1864 oil on canvas (Art Gallery of Ontario) and Scene de Plage le soir (exhibited Musee Jacquemart-Andre, Paris 2013)

Claude Monet Beach at Trouville 1870 oil (Wadsworth Atheneum Museum, Hartford, CT)

Edouard Manet The Beach at Boulogne 1868 (Private Collection, United States)

The Canadians would have been familiar with these artists, and possibly some even knew them and studied with them in Paris. They all became equally enthusiastic to visit beaches and paint the fashionable phenomenon of beach leisure and activity. The beach was also a good place to practice rendering the effects of natural light on landscape and ocean. Canadians excelled at this subject matter as much as they did painting at home in a typical snowy winter.

Clarence Gagnon Summer Breeze at Dinard 1907 oil on canvas (Musee National des Beaux-Arts du Quebec)

Over the decades Masters Gallery has sold many fabulous beach scenes by all of the Canadian Impressionists mentioned above whom were active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and beyond. I hope you enjoy some of these works that feature a plethora of sunlight, sand, shimmering waves, sailboats, sunbathers, tents and umbrellas, sails and pails, children and so much more.

William Brymner Ostend, Belgium 1905 watercolour (Past highlight of Masters Gallery)

William Clapp Girls on the Beach (x2) (Past highlight of Masters Gallery)

Clarence Gagnon Sunrise, Venice, 1909 oil on board (Past highlight of Masters Gallery)

George Horne Russell Summer Day oil on canvas (Past highlight of Masters Gallery)

Arthur Lismer Marjorie and Esther Lismer oil (Past highlight of Masters Gallery)

Paul Peel The Bathers 1887 oil on canvas (Past highlight of Masters Gallery)

And last but not least, some Morrice beach scenes followed by others by John Lyman that are past highlights from Masters Gallery.

James W. Morrice Promenade Brittany, The Beach at St. Malo, The Beach, and The Beach at St. Mers (Past highlights of Masters Gallery)

John Lyman Ombrelle Jaune, Mending the Net Barbados, Regatta on the Lake at Wassawippi (Past highlights of Masters Gallery)


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