ArtworksJames Wilson MorriceVillage Lane, circa 18951865-1924CAD 30,000
Inscriptionsinscribed, ‘M152’ (verso, upper left); inscribed, 'Village Lane - Brittany' (verso, upper center); stamped, ‘ESTATE / F.R HEATON’ (cardboard affixed verso)
William Scott & Sons, Montreal, executors of the J.W. Morrice Estate;
F.R. Heaton, owner of Scott & Sons, before 1939;
Continental Galleries, Montreal.
Walter Klinkhoff Gallery Inc., Montreal, before 1960;
Private collection, Westmount, Quebec.
A lovely street scene, devoid of figures, but full of sun and flowers; the latter are not, as we would expect, at ground level, but high up in the trees bordering the street. The view is quite detailed, including a low wall on the right; where are we? Back in the 1940s, a dealer located this street scene in Brittany, as he (and others) often did when faced with a country scene, for no other reason that at the time it was the only French region known to have been visited by Morrice.
Morrice research continuously reveals new painting places but some, even outside Brittany, have been known for a long time. When I saw this image, and its colours, I immediately thought of Bois-le-Roi, a lovely village bordering the Seine, at the northern tip of the Forêt de Fontainebleau, easily reached by train from Paris. Morrice is documented as visiting Brolles, the village immediately to the west of Bois-le-Roi (today they form only one town), in February 1896 (Toronto SaturdayNight, 29 Feb., p. 9). He accompanied another Canadian painter, Albert Curtis Williamson, and both painted an old fermière in her modest house, among other subjects. We don’t know how long they stayed, but Morrice was probably back in Paris in late March or early April, to work on his first participation in the Salon de la Société Nationale, a Dutch Nocturne.
Since some of the trees bordering this Village Lane are in full bloom, it was obviously not painted in February, but more likely in late April or May. The Morrice sketchbooks that contain drawings done at Brolles or Bois-le-Roi were used in 1895 and 1896; no drawing corresponds to this painting, but a visit in the Spring of 1895 is very plausible.
A quick (virtual) visit to Bois-le-Roi is enough to show how this town loves trees and flowers! It did when Morrice visited, and it still does today. Thanks to old postcards, we found a view of the Avenue de la Gare very similar to what he painted, down to the number of trees on each side of the street; the wall on the right is there too. Not surprisingly, the viewing spot would be a table outside the Chalet de la gare, a small restaurant-hotel located diagonally from the train station (behind us in these images). The distinctive pale bark on the leftmost tree is that of a platane (plane tree), which Morrice rendered faithfully; the pink flowers would belong to the trees behind, probably marronniers (horse-chestnut).
Today, the Chalet is long gone, as are both sides of the Avenue; the only old buildings still standing are the old Post Office (at right in the top image), now a car dealership, and the train station on the other side of the Place de la Gare. The avenue itself survived until the early 21st century, when it was totally covered by cobblestone-paved parking…
Copyright © Lucie Dorais.1of 8