Lot #23

A.J. Casson
Algonquin Park

oil on board
signed lower right; signed, titled and dated 1943 on the reverse
9.25 x 11.25 ins ( 23.5 x 28.6 cms )

Sold for $29,900.00
Sale date: November 23rd 2017

Provenance:
Gift of the artist and his wife (Christmas 1974)
Private Collection, Ontario
By descent to the current Private Collection, British Columbia
Literature:
Paul Duval, A.J. Casson, Toronto, 1975, page 109
Paul Duval, Alfred Joseph Casson, President, Royal Canadian Academy, Toronto, 1951, pages 14, 21 and 26
Margaret Gray, Margaret Rand and Lois Steen, A.J. Casson: Canadian Artists 1, Ontario, 1976, page 49
Ian Thom, Casson's Cassons, Kleinburg, The McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 1988, pages 5 and 18
During the wartime era of the 1940s, Casson was particularly busy with commercial work as a result of the necessity for print and design works geared towards wartime propaganda and initiatives. Because of this, the artist had limited capability to travel extensively for sketching trips, and thus visited Algonquin Park more often during this period given its close proximity to Toronto. Ian Thom argues that “the nineteen-forties were a fertile period for Casson... many of these works are splendid explorations of light and form.”

Rather than present a composition from a high view point looking down to a dramatic vista, Casson has instead taken a lower view point in “Algonquin Park” (1943). The effect gives a monumental feel to the landscape as the viewer looks up to the trees near the edge of a rolling hill. The application of paint is an excellent example of Casson's classic approach to oil painting: “He uses oil almost like watercolours, very thinly. Far from wanting texture now, his flattened planes and two-dimensional effects are achieved with thin applications of pure colour.” The result is an interesting mixture of depth as the layers of pigment converge to one plane, and ethereal lightness with the choice of decidedly lighter colour palettes employed.

A young boy growing up in the suburbs of Guelph, Casson “gained a deep instinct for basic values and a solid perspective upon man's relationship to the earth and his God.” Though the argument can be made that Casson's mission was to present the Canadian landscape for pure aesthetic value, one cannot help but make a connection to humanity's place within said landscape and their existential purpose. Casson chooses to reduce and simplify forms and textures within the landscape while maintaining drama and exploring the theme of the endurance of nature over man. Emphasis on crisp form, luminosity and an exploration of light and shadow are integral to this work. The rolling hills, billowing dramatic clouds hanging low in the sky, and rather barren forest culminate to instill a feeling of the sublime in its true sense.

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Alfred Joseph Casson
(1898 - 1992) Group of Seven, PRCA, OSA, CSPW

When the young A.J. Casson first took a position as design assistant to Franklin Carmichael at the firm of Rous and Mann, he could not have known the remarkable direction his career would take. The demanding but affable Carmichael became a friend, mentor and sketching companion. In fact, it was Carmichael who introduced Alfred Casson to members of the Group of Seven at Toronto’s Arts and Letters Club. The dedicated artist began to exhibit with the Group and became a natural successor to Frank Johnston when he left to pursue other interests.

In his depiction of the more settled areas of southern Ontario, A.J. Casson was deliberately seeking out subject matter that set his work apart from the preferred material of other Group of Seven members. Alfred Casson’s strong design background shaped a unique painting style, characterized by graceful lines and carefully considered compositions. With the passing of time his style underwent a subtle change in which pattern became an essential element in his work.

In addition to his dedication to excellence in his own work, A.J. Casson was instrumental in the formation of important Canadian art organizations such as the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour, the Canadian Group of Painters and the WWII War Artists Program. There can be no doubt that over a long career, which spanned much of the twentieth century, Alfred Joseph Casson left an indelible mark on the Canadian art landscape.

  • 1898   Alfred Joseph Casson born in Toronto
  • 1912   Studies at Hamilton Technical School under John S. Gordon
  • 1913   Apprenticeship at the Laidlaw Lithography Company in Hamilton, Ont.
  • 1914   Apprenticeship at Commercial Engravers Company
  • 1915   Freelance designer
  • 1915-1917   Studies at Toronto Central Technical College under Alfred Howell
  • 1918-1921   Studies at the Ontario College of Art under J.W. Beatty
  • 1919-1926   Assistant Designer to Franklin Carmichael at the design firm of Rous and Mann Ltd. 
  • 1920   Carmichael introduces Casson to Group of Seven members at Toronto’s Arts and Letters Club
  • 1921   Exhibits for the first time with the Ontario Society of Artists;  accompanies Carmichael on an extended painting trip to Rosseau Lake in the Muskoka district
  • 1922   Exhibits for the first time with the Group of Seven
  • 1923   “Clearing”, is purchased by the National Gallery of Canada; becomes a member of the Ontario Society of Artists
  • 1925   Founding member of the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour together with Franklin Carmichael and F.H. Brigden
  • 1926   Becomes a member of the Group of Seven upon the departure of Frank Johnston;  accompanies Franklin Carmichael to the design firm of Sampson-Matthews;  becomes an associate member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts;  buys a car and begins to explore the small villages and hamlets of Southern Ontario
  • 1926-1930   Sketches in the regions of Haliburton and Lake Superior
  • 1928   Sketching trip to Lake Superior with A.Y. Jackson, Lawren Harris and Franklin Carmichael
  • 1933   Co-founds the Canadian Group of Painters after the dissolution of the Group of Seven, following the death of J.E.H. MacDonald
  • 1936   Anglican Church at Magnetawan is purchased by the National Gallery of Canada
  • 1939   Becomes a full member of the RCA
  • 1939-1945  Appointed as a member of Canada’s War Records Committee;  helps to establish the WWII War Artists Program
  • 1940   Elected President of the Ontario Society of Artists
  • 1942   Appointed Art Director of Sampson-Matthews
  • 1946   Appointed Vice-President of Sampson-Matthews
  • 1949   Publishes “The Possibilities of Silk Screen Reproduction” in Canadian Art magazine
  • 1948   Elected President of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts;  receives the Province of Ontario Award
  • 1954   Awarded the Gold Medal for Excellence in Canadian Advertising
  • 1955-1959   Appointed Vice-President of the Art Gallery of Ontario
  • 1957   Retires from Sampson-Matthews in order to pursue painting on a full-time basis;  awarded Gold Medal from the University of Alberta
  • 1967   Awarded Canada’s Silver Centennial Medal
  • 1970   Awarded the Royal Canadian Academy Medal; conferred with an Honourary LL.D. from the University of Western Ontario
  • 1971   Conferred with an Honourary Degree from the University of Saskatchewan
  • 1973   Becomes a Fellow of the Ontario College of Art; awarded the City of Toronto Award of Merit for distinguished public service
  • 1975   Conferred with an Honourary LL.D. from the University of Toronto
  • 1977   Awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal
  • 1979   Awarded the Order of Canada
  • 1980   Conferred with an D.F.A. from Mount Allison University
  • 1982   Conferred with an Honourary LL.D. from McMaster University
  • 1991   Awarded the Order of Ontario
  • 1992   Dies in Toronto at the age of 93