ArtworksA.Y. JacksonCraig Harbour, Ellesmere Island, 19271882-1974Sold
Inscriptionssigned, ‘A Y JACKSON’ (lower right); titled and dated by the artist, ‘Craig Harbour / Ellesmere Island / 1927’ (verso, centre); inscribed by the artist, ‘A.Y. JACKSON / 6190 TERREBONNE AVE / MONTREAL’ (verso, upper right); inscribed by Naomi Jackson Groves, ‘NJG / 1168’ (verso, lower right)
Galerie Walter Klinkhoff Inc., Montreal;
Acquired from the above by Mitzi and Mel Dobrin.
Toronto, Art Gallery of Toronto, 21 September – 2 October 1927, Exhibition of Sketches and Black & White drawings of the Canadian Arctic Regions by A.Y. Jackson, R.C.A., no. 39 as Craig Harbour.Buffalo, Albright Art Gallery, January 1928, A Group of Sketches from the Arctic Circle by A.Y. Jackson, one of 15-43 Arctic Sketches in Color [?]A.Y. Jackson’s trip to the eastern Arctic in 1927 was a logical extension of his constant exploration that had seen him paint from Halifax, Nova Scotia to the Skeena River in British Columbia. Accompanied by Dr. Frederick Banting, co-discoverer of insulin and an amateur artist, he left North Sydney, Cape Breton on 16 July 1927 on the Canadian government supply ship, the S.S. Beothic, returning to Sydney on 4 September.
The art historian Naomi Jackson Groves, the artist’s niece, has published the two diaries Jackson kept during this trip in her book A.Y. Jackson The Arctic 1927 (Penumbra Press, 1982). The diaries provide a day-to-day account of the voyage and the challenges confronting the artists. They passed Craig Harbour twice, on 29 July on the way up to Bache Post in Kane Basin and on 2 August on the ship’s way south-west to Lancaster Sound. The second diary, prepared for Fred and Bess Houser gives a vivid description of the conditions. “Friday July 29th. We are in Jones Sound, working in to Craig Harbour…Later: Craig Harbour was full of ice and fog cutting off all the upper half of the landscape. Art is some problem. There is no end of stuff, but everything is moving. The ship, the ice, and then to make it worse, there is nearly always fog hanging round. You have to make a stab at it by either making a drawing or else taking the whole landscape and memorizing the effect. We did not go ashore, it was a mile walk over the ice, and fog at the end of it. We took a quick shot at some young icebergs, while the steamer was drifting along. It was still for three minutes, but I got a fairly good sketch.” O.S. Finnie of the Department of the Interior and facilitator of the artists’ inclusion on the voyage, later wrote that the weather in 1927 had been “the worst in all our experience.”
On 8 June 1929 Jackson wrote to fellow artist Clarence Gagnon in Paris, “It was a thrilling trip but not arranged primarily for artists and the most exciting country was clouded with fog when we went through. We had very little time ashore. She was a steel ship and could not take chances of getting frozen in so most of my work was done while we were moving.” Sketching moving ice from a moving ship was challenging, easier done in rapid drawings than in oil, the latter often painted in the cabin when the impression was still fresh. Craig Harbour, Ellesmere Island was worked up from a drawing (fig.2) made in Craig Harbour. The strangely formed iceberg pirouettes between ice forms and the hills on shore. In the oil sketch the iceberg takes on the central role, like a massive sea lion rising from the green-blue water and white of the ice. The crests of the brown hills of Ellesmere Island are hidden by the moving fog that covered “the upper half of the landscape.”
In his article, “Up North,” published in The Canadian Forum in December, Jackson wrote, “The ice in Kane Basin and along the Ellesmere coast is beautiful in colour, pure blues and greens seem to result from the greater pressure of the northern ice-fields. Fantastic forms abound, old floes washed at the water line until the top overhangs in strange mushroom-like formations.”
In spite of all the difficulties, the trip was productive. Naomi Groves wrote that Jackson brought back forty oil sketches and he exhibited sixty oil sketches and finished ink drawings at the Art Gallery of Toronto only weeks after his return and subsequently at Hart House at the University of Toronto the last two weeks of October. The ink drawings were reproduced in Jackson’s The Far North published by Rous & Mann before Christmas.
Charles C. Hill
A.Y. Jackson’s letters to Clarence Gagnon are in the Clarence Gagnon fonds at the McCord Museum, Montreal7of 22