ArtworksJames Lillie GrahamBonsecours Market, Montreal, 1923 (circa)1873-1965Sold
Inscriptionssigned, 'J. L. Graham' (recto, lower right)
ProvenanceDominion Gallery, Montreal
Private Collection, Toronto.A rare masterpiece by James Lillie Graham.
Bonsecours Market, Montreal is a composition defining Graham’s contribution to Impressionism in Canada. The perspective Graham has chosen is somewhat reminiscent of Peter Winkworth’s William Raphael of Bonsecours, a painting purchased in recent years by the National Gallery of Canada but here described in the terms of impressionism purveyed particularly by fellow Canadian Art Club exhibitor, Maurice Cullen. Bonsecours Market, Montreal captures the same animation of the scene.
In what was the main public marketplace in Montreal, groups of shoppers are huddled among merchants in negotiation for their wares, under a cold winter sun. While some enjoy the luxury of transporting their purchases by sleigh, others, less fortunate, ply their way through the snow pulling a sledge heavy with their newly acquired goods.
Graham has posed himself on the west side of Jacques Cartier Square looking eastward along St. Paul Street, with the dome of the public market, Bonsecour Market and the Church of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours beyond.
Born in Belleville, Ontario in 1883, according to his addresses of paintings submitted to the Art Association of Montreal, as early as 1891 he had relocated to Montreal where he was a student of William Brymner. According to A Dictionary of Canadian Artists he then continued his art studies at London’s Slade School of Art with masters Frederick Brown and Henry Tonks. Tonks is referred to as “the most renowned and formidable teacher of his generation” [ 1 ]. He spent some 13 years overseas studying at the Académie Julian in Paris and then in Antwerp at the Institut des Beaux Arts before coming back to Canada. His address upon his return, according to his five paintings exhibited at the AAM in 1910 was in fact at the location of this scene, 66 Jacques Cartier Square. (One of Graham’s paintings in the 1910 exhibition is in the NGC and another in the Art Gallery of Ontario.)
In 1924 at the Art Association of Montreal Graham exhibited what is likely his most celebrated painting, one executed in a similar style of impressionism, an outstanding winter composition, Place d’Armes, a work awarded the Jessie Dow Prize and acquired by the Quebec Museum at the time for $600, a handsome price for the day. In that same exhibition, Graham showed a second painting, slightly smaller in size than Quebec’s purchase and less expensive but still costly at $450, a painting listed under the title Au Marche de Bonsecours. (Several years later, in 1937, Graham exhibited a painting listed as Winter, Bonsecours Market priced at $550, conceivably the same work as the 1924 painting, re-offered 13 years later at a higher price than previously. The total absence of any motorised vehicle from the scene described in the painting we off er here would suggest that the scene likely takes place in an era that dates to the 1924 generation or conceivably before.
1. Ed. Ian Chilvers. "Tonks, Henry". The Oxford Dictionary of Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009, 4th ed., electronic resource. p. 631.