Saturday, 5 December 2015



During the holiday season our country’s cherished artists scaled it down a notch to make small but memorable seasonal imagery for Christmas greetings that could be enjoyed by many people. In the colder winter months artists, such as the Group of Seven members and their contemporaries, spent time back in their studios selecting their favorite panel sketches of the year in order to make large-scale masterpieces on canvas. However, it appears that for the holidays they always made time for the more intimate art of Christmas card designing. This included hand-done cards for friends and family and designs for commercial cards as part of their jobs as graphic designers. These lovely little works came in varying printmaking techniques such as lithographs, silkscreens, linocuts, and woodblocks. Some are one-offs and might include hand-tinted highlights and others were made to sell in stores in series.

Mary Reid Wrinch Wyehwood Cardinals silkscreen printed Christmas card available at Masters Gallery Vancouver

Masters Gallery Vancouver held a printmaking exhibition this December, called Masters in Printmaking, which featured a handful of Christmas cards and designs. They have been very popular and well admired. Concurrently The McMichael Collection of Canadian Art in Kleinberg, Ontario has a Christmas card themed show derived from their own holdings and archives, This House was Made for Christmas. In this exhibition, and in our Vancouver show, there are some silkscreen printed Christmas cards. This comes in the wake of a Sampson-Matthews silkscreen exhibition in Masters Gallery Calgary in November to coincide with the launch of a book about Sampson-Matthews prints, Art For War and Peace. These all seemed like good reasons to focus this year’s holiday season blog on Canadian artists and their Christmas cards. Rous & Mann, Sampson-Matthews, and W. Coutts & Co. are a few of the companies that joined with our country’s greatest artists of the 20th century to make artistic Christmas cards.

JW Beatty silkscreen print of the Coutts Canadian Artist Series Christmas Cards

An AJ Casson design for a Christmas card in the McMichael Christmas Card show 2015

An AJ Casson Christmas card available at Masters Gallery Vancouver)

An AY Jackson silkscreen print of the Coutts Canadian Artist Series Christmas Cards

A Carl Schaeffer ink design for a Christmas card at the National Gallery of Canada

The custom of Christmas card giving began in the United Kingdom n the 1840s. Improved printing techniques throughout that century allowed for the Christmas card to become much more widespread by the 1860s. Cards also appeared sporadically in the late 1840s in America, but were expensive. An entrepreneurial printer mass produced cards at an affordable rate, and card giving took off late 1870s on this continent. By 1900 Christmas cards were popular all over Europe as well.

Three examples of Victorian (19th century) Christmas cards

An example of an e-card (21st century) for sending by email

By the early 20th century the Christmas card had become a mainstay tradition of the holiday season in those countries celebrating Christmas around the World. Although it appeared that email greeting cards might threaten the tradition of card giving a little bit, the custom of exchanging well-designed holiday cards has prevailed into the 21st century. There are now a handful of large chain stores devoted to selling high-end designer cards. It even seems as though there is a bit of a nostalgic resurgence of cards having the very vintage feel that harks back to the early card design and style. Throughout the 20th century, artists made cards that typically reflected their own style of artwork (though not always when working with larger graphic design firms). It is therefore a lovely way of seeing some renowned artists works on a smaller scale. For collectors these cards are increasingly popular and hard to come by. The following examples were available for sale in our Masters of Printmaking show.

Three AY Jackson Christmas cards from the Rous & Mann Canadian Artists series in the 1920s -Masters Gallery Vancouver

A hand-tinted Christmas Card by AY Jackson sold at Masters Gallery Vancouver

Sampson-Matthews, W. Coutts & Co., and other printing firms teamed up with Canadian artists to create Christmas cards, just as they did with the same artists for larger projects to promote Canadian art with the National Gallery. A.Y. Jackson was a particularly staunch supporter of organizing Christmas card creations with printing firms.The firm Rous & Mann produced a series of Christmas cards called the ‘Canadian Artists Series’ between 1923 and 1929. Household names like AY Jackson, AJ Casson, JW Beatty, Mabel Lockerby, LL Fitzgerald, Anne Savage, Sarah Robertson, Nora Collyer, Clarence Gagnon, Kathleen Morris, Ethel Seath, Paul Caron, Frederick Varley, LAC Panton, and likely more were involved. Then in the early 1930s Jackson approached William Coutts regarding submitting Christmas card designs to continue the tradition of promoting Canadian artists. From this meeting the Canada Painters Series of Christmas cards was set. With the designs of 26 known artists whom also had previously been involved as mentioned above, Coutts launched his series of just under 80 silkscreen Christmas card designs. Coutts pulled each silkscreen design himself by hand, and each therefore has an individual look. Frank Carmichael helped supervise this. The cards were stocked in stores, but were not particularly successful at first launch because the Depression Era had set in and prices were therefore to high for the average buyers. Incidentally, original Coutts 1931 silkscreen card designs are now desirable to collectors.

J. Ernest Sampson (of Sampson-Matthews) Cutting Down the Christmas Tree (1931) silkscreen print of the Coutts Canadian Artist Series Christmas Cards sold at Masters Gallery Vancouver

William Coutts did not give up, and went to the United States to meet with the Halls, owners of what became the Hallmark Co. in 1932. They agreed to take on a Canadian line of artists Christmas cards, an institution that continued with Hallmark until the 1980s. Hallmark in fact bought shares in W. Coutts & Co. and bought the whole company in the 1940s. Although Coutts’ 1931 silkscreens were unique and the medium attractive, likely for ease and practicality Hallmark used lithography after 1931. There have been a handful of exhibitions that have featured the Coutts series since, including a show and sale at Masters Gallery in Calgary in 2001.

Hopefully the seasonal imagery of these precious little greeting cards fills you with a bit of holiday cheer. Season’s greetings from all of us at Masters Gallery.


Tuesday, 10 November 2015



An exhibition called Embracing Canada has recently opened at the Vancouver Art Gallery. The exhibition looks back through history to a 100-year period of artist interaction with the rugged Canadian landscape. Paintings from 1840 to 1940 chart the changing ways in which artists interpreted their experiences across the varying geographies of the nation. This is a period in which exploration and growth allowed for increased access to far off and remote places. Art production has coincided with the discovery of our lands from early 19th century voyageurs on expeditions, to railway-funded artist trips, and then visionaries finding beauty in the vast northern country. This includes British colonists meticulously documenting the wilderness; as well as newly established forts, villages and towns, and their interaction with the First Nations peoples they encountered. Venturesome artists traveled westwards as the railway was built to help promote settlement and holidaying across the prairies and mountains. By the time the country was settled from east to west with growing populations in the towns and cities, artists like the Group of Seven aimed to use the beauty of the northern landscape for the nationalistic purpose of highlighting the attributes of the country. A century later we are left with a rich mosaic of art that illustrates why it is that landscape art will always hold such a precious place in Canadian art.

(Cover detail of the exhibition catalogue)

The vast majority of the art that is exhibited in the Embracing Canada exhibition comes from a single private collection that was generously loaned. The collection has been amassed with astute connoisseurship and therefore includes works of art by Canada’s very best. It is a treat to have the works of art from private collections on display for the public, as public institutions are not the only custodians of our country’s masterpieces of art. I often hear comments that all of the best Canadian art should be in public galleries and museums, however these institutions already have quantities of art beyond what they are capable of displaying permanently. Therefore many of the amazing works of art end up in storage and do not see the light of day often or ever. Yet, works of art in private collections are generally on display all the time and often loaned. Typically the owners are passionate about their art and therefore show and educate the art to more friends and family than a painting might see in an institutional basement. It is important to have major works of art that are institutionalized, but it is also good to see great works that are accessible among the population. The art market itself also heightens the interest and prestige of Canadian art by continually drawing attention to how special and desirable our country's best artists are. After all, originally these works of art were owned and cherished by someone(s). Our gallery specializes in historical works of Canadian art, much of which comes from the same period, 1840-1940, which is represented in this show. We love to help put great works of art in the homes of passionate collectors. There they hang and present great opportunities for their custodians to tell their tale and help pass on the story of our artistic interaction with out national landscape.

Embracing Canada is a superb collaboration between public and private art collecting, made accessible to visitors and citizens of Vancouver. To compliment this collaboration I have picked a selection of works of art that have been sold at Masters Gallery in the past. These paintings have passed into private hands to be enjoyed and shared by collectors, family and friends, and every once and awhile with the greater public as well.

Cornelies Krieghoff, Indian Pulling a Tobaggan, oil

Cornelius Krieghoff, Shooting the Rapids, oil

Frederick Verner, Caribour Resting, watercolour ,1889

William Armstrong, Hudson Bay Post, North Shore of Lake Nipigon, 1888, watercolour

Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith, The Great Yoho Valley, 1905 watercolour

Maurice Cullen, After A Heavy Snowfall, North River, circa 1929 oil

JW Beatty, Autumn, Algonquin Park 1920 oil

Anne Savage, Skeena River, oil, 1927

Emily Carr, Harbour Scene BC, 1908 watercolour

Tom Thomson, Woodland Algonquin Park oil

Arthur Lismer, Autumn Georgian Bay 1938 oil

Frederick Varley, Lynn Valley, 1935, oil

Lawren Harris, Icebergs Smith Sound II, 1930, oil

JEH MacDonald, Mount Odoray, Rockies, oil

Note that these paintings are all past highlights, but there are always great new things coming available in both the Vancouver and Calgary galleries that highlight Canada's landscape over time.


Wednesday, 23 September 2015



I’ve heard it told that buying and selling art could be compared to fishing. One casts their line waiting to hook the next best painting to sell, and in turn the great painting becomes bait cast out again in the hopes that it will catch the eye of an excited buyer. Furthermore, I've noticed that plenty of collectors and art lovers also seem to love fishing. In pairing art with fishing, let us have a look at some of our country’s cherished artists having a go at fishing.

A simple Google image search reveals that contemporary artists all across the continent and abroad are painting idyllic scenes of anglers peacefully casting their lines as they fly fish at the bend in a river. Like today, artists’ depicted angling as a relaxing and enjoyable pastime, hobby, or even sport, throughout Canadian art history. I have “fished” around to find a few historical Canadian artists’ renditions of anglers for this laid back little blog. I didn’t intend to pick any particular period over another, I just “reeled in” what I could find. (Puns irresistible!)

Paul Peel Three Boys Fishing at a Cove (Museum London)

Robert Gagen Fishing (1879)

Henry Sandham Trout Fishing (1890) (National Gallery of Canada)

Lucius O'Brien Two studies of Anglers(late 19th century) (National Gallery of Canada)

William Raphael Two Boys Fishing (1877) (National Gallery of Canada)

Homer Watson Fishing (1930) (National Gallery of Canada)

Tom Thomson Fisherman (1916-17) oil on canvas (Art Gallery of Alberta)

Jean-Paul Lemieux Fishing by the Docks (1927) ink, gouache (National Gallery of Canada)

W.J. Phillips The Angler (1926) colour woodblock print

Two colour woodblock prints by Margaret Shelton Fishing on Jack Lake and Fishing on the Bow (1945)

(.... and a familiar view from the perspective of the fisherman on board! E.J. Hughes Entrance to West Arm (1960) (Private Collection)

I found many examples of works that depict the happy angler, the most famous of which is Tom Thomson’s The Fisherman. I found quite a few little works on paper, many of which are owned by the National Gallery of Canada. Admittedly, based on the number of contemporary depictions of leisurely fishing subjects, I thought that I might find more works by well know painters that were somewhat equivalent to Thomson’s The Fisherman. However, I quickly realized that despite the fact that angling for sport did not appear as often as I thought, Canadian art history is filled with subjects of the fishing industry and related activities. A recurring theme in Canadian art history is the fishing village, which appears throughout the late 19th and 20th century. Since the nation is surrounded by ocean, and scattered with seemingly infinite lakes and waterways it is no wonder that fishing was depicted often, as it was and still is an important industry for Canada. I have therefore included excellent paintings and prints related to the fishing industry, as it is almost as prevalent a theme as other geographic themes in Canadian art, such as ‘Algoma,’ or ‘Algonquin.’

Lawren Harris Fishing Stage Quidi Vide, Newfoundland (1921) (National Gallery of Canada)

Arthur Lismer Nova Scotia Fishing Village (1930) (National Gallery of Canada)

Pegi Nicol McLeod Women Cleaning Fish (1927) (National Gallery of Canada)

Paul Goranson Purse Seiner (1940) woodcut

Jack Shadbolt Fishing Boats, Fraser River, 1945 watercolour, 19 x 15 in. (Available at Masters Gallery, Vancouver)

Jock MacDonald Indian Salmon Rack, Fraser Canyon, BC woodcut (Sold Masters Gallery, Vancouver)

Canadian Pacific Railway posters have been featured as exceptional works of art in many other blogs, and they must be mentioned again in this blog. During my search for Canadian angling themes I came up with quite a nice selection of Canadian Pacific Railway tourism posters created to entice the avid angler into holidaying with rod and reel.

Four Canadian Pacific Railway Tourism Posters (20th century)

We have now explored a variety of different types of art incorporating fishing; from 19th century sketches to large canvases of Eastern fishing villages and Western fishing vacation promotions. So for anglers and art lovers alike I hope you enjoy some of the imagery presented. Best of luck to those wanting to catch lots of fish, as we try and "catch" some great paintings to have in the gallery this fall/winter season.


I conclude with a personal favourite fishing themed work of art by Jack Cowin.

Flies (2013) hand-coloured etching