Artwork by John Goodwin Lyman,  Portrait of Marcelle (circa 1935)

John Lyman
Portrait of Marcelle (circa 1935)

oil on canvas
signed lower right
40 x 28 ins ( 101.6 x 71.1 cms )

Sold for $35,000.00
Sale date: May 28th 2015

Archibald Lang Fleming
Private Collection, Toronto
Joyner Fine Art, auction, Toronto, June 3, 2003, lot 40
D & E Lake Limited Fine Arts, Toronto
Private Collection, Toronto

“John Lyman 1886-1967, I live by my eyes/Je vis par les yeux”, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston, 26 September – 23 November 1986, travelling to the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Edmonton Art Gallery, Edmonton; Winnipeg Art Gallery, Winnipeg; London Regional Art Gallery, London, Ontario; Musée national de beaux-arts du Quebec, Quebec City; Musée d'art contemporain, Montreal, addendum
Louise Dompierre, “John Lyman 1886-1967, I live by my eyes/Je vis par les yeux”, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston, 1986, page 71, listed page 197 and reproduced in colour as the cover illustration, also reproduced on the exhibition invitation
Dr. François-Marc Gagnon, “Lyman's Encounter with Matisse”, “Morrice and Lyman in the Company of Matisse”, Montreal/Toronto, 2014, page 168
David Barber, “A Forgotten Legacy”, “The Whig-Standard Magazine”, October 4, 1986, page 15
The human figure greatly interested Lyman; it was the subject of several important paintings throughout his career. Curator Louise Dompierre affirmed that, during the 1930s, the artist produced some of his best portraits. In this captivating artwork, Marcelle is intelligently composed; the artist uses visible brush-work and varying neutral tones, touched perfectly by light, to bring his composition to life. An undeniable feat, Lyman is able to masterfully contrast his nude sitter against a nude-coloured background. Dr. Gagnon notes that Lyman is concerned with “affirming the presence of volume” as the contrast in lighting “situate[s] the figure in three-dimensional space, even the viewer's space.” Exerting great control in defining the form, he refrains from inclusion of decorative fabrics or wallpaper, allowing the setting to remain relatively bare. This achieves a remarkable unity between the figure and the background.

Marcelle's straightforward gaze is hypnotic and her strength of character certain. Dompierre notes that works such as “Portrait of Marcelle” “convey Lyman's attraction to women of exceptionally sensuous appeal and show his ability to convey such sensuousness while allowing the model to retain her dignity... It is one of his best qualities, arising from the manner in which he paints, creating a distance, a wall that cannot be crossed.”

One of the largest portraits by the artist, this canvas was selected as the cover illustration for the catalogue of the 1986 travelling retrospective exhibition. Barber tells how the curator came to include this remarkable portrait in the show, noting “the striking nude reproduced on the front cover of the catalogue, ‘Portrait of Marcelle’, 'came out at the last minute', when its owner, hearing that the exhibition was forthcoming, contacted Dompierre. There was time to put it on the cover but not to include it in the body of the catalogue.” The artwork was also chosen as the reproduced image on the invitation for the Members’ Preview evening of the exhibition.

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John Goodwin Lyman
(1886 - 1967)

John Lyman played a key role in the development of modern art in Canada, not only as an artist, but also as a theorist, professor and as the founder in 1939 of the Contemporary Arts Society. Apart from trips to Canada in 1913 and 1927, Lyman spent the years 1907-31 in Europe. He attended the Academie Julian in Paris and met the Canadian artist James Wilson Morrice. In 1909, he attended the Academie Matisse. The relationships with both Morrice and Matisse were crucial to John Lyman’s art: devotion to a pure art of colour, line, and form. Lyman returned to Montreal permanently in September 1931 and worked on improving the artistic conditions in Canada. From 1936 to 1940, he was an author for the monthly art column in “The Montrealer”, where he commented on the Canadian art scene, promoted international trends and offered intelligent writing on art. He co-founded the short-lived Atelier and introduced the students to French art practices. He was opposed to what he felt to be the xenophobic nationalism of Canadian art. To those who feared the taint of foreign art, Lyman replied: “The talk of the Canadian scene has gone sour. The real Canadian scene is in the consciousness of Canadian painters, whatever the object of their thought” (The Montrealer, 1 February, 1938). In 1939, Lyman established the Contemporary Arts Society in Montreal and, in 1949, he became a professor at McGill University and was appointed director of the Fine Arts Department.