Wednesday 16 March 2016



Lawren Harris "The Corner Store" 1912 (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa),

Helen McNicoll "Marketplace" 1910 (Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa)

Aesthetics aside, a primary reason that I am so interested in historical art is that it often can give us glimpses of a different or changing way of life. With fine and applied art both the object itself and/or the content that the object projects can be telling of its time. This can be observed in the style and material of the period an object was made or by what the object is depicting that is contemporary to the time. The subject matter is endless but examples might be a ceremony, gleaners in a field, or fishermen in boats that are representative of their era. Even historical art of historical subjects can give clues about the time it was painted, such as a 16th century Tuscan religious scene in which all of the figures are outfitted in Italian Renaissance garb.

This blog will look at the content of some beautiful representational Canadian art from about 100 years ago to have a glance at a changing way of life here in North America. The way in which we shop has changed dramatically, and what was commonplace 100 years ago is starting to become ‘a thing of the past.’ The title of this blog includes Corner Stores and Marketplaces and it is these establishments (corner stores, markets and shops with specialty vendors, and small family and independent businesses) that were normal at the turn of the 20th century. As the way we shop slowly changes, bygone ways are preserved for us through the beautiful art of past epochs.

James W. Morrice "Market Place, St. Malo" c. 1898 (National Gallery of Canada)

In the 2nd half of the 20th century North Americans became accustomed to shopping for their needs and desires in large shopping malls and supermarkets. Added to this are the massive scale chain retailers that offer an all-in-one-stop-shop (that are admittedly convenient in the rain or snow). Furthermore, in the 21st century we are getting further estranged from shopping at little specialty stores because we shop from home on the Internet and items get delivered to us. Even grocery shopping can be done online. Some types of stores have even gone extinct because of the Internet, such as the video store industry. Not all small shops and markets are extinct though; their decline has been slow and even has seen attempted renewal as a romantic nostalgia. I remember the excitement around walking to the corner store to spend a childhood allowance on 1 and 5 cent candies. Many cities still have markets, such as Granville Island in Vancouver or St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. Here in Vancouver there is a small resurgence of restored local corner stores in some communities and pop-up farmer’s markets that are reminiscent of city square markets. In Europe the markets are still more prominent, and shopping for everything at separate specialty vendors and purveyors is still more normal than in North America.

Sybil Andrews "Market Day, edition 5 of 100" 1936" (Sold at Masters Gallery)

Lawren Harris "The Italian Store, In the Ward" c. 1922 (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa)

Canadian artists have used the community corner store or local markets as a subject for their art often, especially 100 years ago when they were a regular aspect of towns and cities. I have sifted through illustrated literature and selected some especially beautiful works. I tried to include some Canadian artists who I think are exceptional but aren't as widely appreciated as the Group of Seven members. This also gives an opportunity to remember that Canadian artists were actively pursuing subjects beyond landscapes in the early 20th century. Please enjoy having a look at shopping in the early 20th century, and reminisce about the times of the separate butcher, baker or candlestick maker!

Hal Ross Perrigard "The Important Corner" 1930 (sold at auction, 2009)

Hal Ross Perrigard "The Lobster Shack, Rockport, Massachusetts" 1929 (sold at auction)

John Y. Johnstone "Cornerstore" 1919 (private collection, exhibited "Beaver Hall Group, Montreal Museum of Fine Art, 2016")

John Y. Johnstone "Bonsecours Market, Montreal" 1916 (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa)

Clarence Gagnon "Moonlight Street" etching 1908

Kathleen Morris "Market, Ottawa" c. 1927 (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa)

Peleg Franklin Brownell "Market, Ottawa" c. 1912 (sold at Masters Gallery)

Harry Britton "Market Day, Quebec" 1907 (sold at Masters Gallery)

Andre Bieler "The Market Stall" 1946 (sold at Masters Gallery)

Lawren Harris "The Corner Store" c. 1915 (illustrated in Duval, Where the Universe Sings, plate 106)

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