Public Gardens, Venice, 1903 (circa)
Inscriptionssigned, ‘J.W. Morrice’ (lower right)
Mrs. E.B. Greenshields, Montreal;
Mrs. Graham Drinkwater, Montreal (by descent from the above).
McCord Museum, McGill University, Montreal.
Galerie Walter Klinkhoff Inc., Montreal;
Paris, Grand Palais, Salon, Société Nationale des Beaux-arts, 16 april- june 30, 1903, no. 972, as Au jardin public (Venise).
Philadelphia, PAFA, circa October 1 - October 27, 1903, no. 72 as Public Garden, Venice, and Pittsburgh, November 05, 1903- January 01, 1904, no. 200, as The Public Garden, Venice, Cincinnati, January 09 - February 01, 1904, Buffalo, February 9 - (?), Chicago, March 3- March 27, 1904, Boston, April 04-April 23, 1904, Saint-Louis, MO, World Fair, April 30 - December 01, 1904, Catalogue of the American Exhibition of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers of London.
Paris, American Art Association of Paris, Exposition des artistes français et américains, March 2 - March 25, 1905, no. 48, as Jardin public à Venise.
Montreal, Art Association of Montreal, 23rd Annual Spring Exhibition, March 23 - April 14, 1906, no. 125 as The Public Gardens, Venice; (“sold to E.B. Greenshields”, apparently by Morrice himself: Greenshields Fonds, McCord; Morrice was in Montreal from approx. Dec. 18, 1905, to Feb. 21, 1906).
Halifax, Dominion Exhibition, Fine Arts Department, Under the Patronage of the Royal Canadian Academy, September 1906, no. 123, as The Public Gardens, Venice (belongs to E.B. Greenshields, Esq).
Toronto, Canadian Art Club 2d, March 1 - March 20, 1909, no. 31, as The Public Gardens, Venice (ill; "coll. Greenshields").
Montreal, Arts Club, Catalogue of Paintings by J.W. Morrice, R.C.A., March 12, 1914, no. 17, as Giardino Publico - Venice.
Montreal, Art Association of Montreal, Memorial Exhibition of Paintings by the Late James W. Morrice, R.C.A., January 16 - February 15, 1925, no. 51, as The Public Gardens, Venice.
Montreal, Art Association of Montreal, Exhibition of Paintings from the Collection of Edward Black Greenshields, November 5 - November 29, 1936, no. 39, as The Public Gardens, Venice.
Montreal, Scott, Greenshields Collection, January 1937, as The Public Gardens, Venice.
Montreal, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, September 30 - September 31, 1965 and Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada, November 12 - December 5, 1965, James Wilson Morrice: 1865-1924, no. 55, as Public Gardens, Venice / Aux Jardins publiques[sic], Venise.Montreal, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, December 6, 1985 - February 2, 1986 and Quebec, MQ, February 27 - April 20, 1987, Morrice: A Painter with a View / Morrice: Avec vue sur le paysage, cat. James Wilson Morrice, 1865 - 1924 by Nicole Cloutier & al., no. 45, as The Public Gardens, Venice / Jardin public, Venise.
Born in Montreal but resident in Paris since 1889, James Wilson Morrice probably first went to Venice in 1894 about age thirty, and continued to make regular visits until possibly as late as 1909. Although great numbers of foreign artists were seduced by Venice, few visited as frequently as Morrice and no other Canadian spent as much time in the place called the Paradise of Cities. The Dobrin painting shows a section of the Public Gardens bordering on the Basin of St. Mark, with a distant view of the city and the island of the Giudecca. The Giardini Pubblici has a particular place in Morrice's career as he was the first Canadian to exhibit at the prestigious Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte della Città di Venezia (better known as the Venice Biennale). He participated in 1903 and 1905, and the art extravaganza was held in a specially-constructed pavilion in the Public Gardens.
The painting Public Gardens is a quiet meditation on the light and colour of Venice on a late summer afternoon. Although only a short distance from the Piazza San Marco, the Giardini is still a rare green space where citizens and visitors take leisurely walks free of the hustle and bustle of Venice's main-tourists spots. In his carefully designed composition, Morrice shapes his response to seeing Venetians enjoying the city they have inhabited for well over a thousand years. He separates the scene into three horizontal areas - much like he composes his views of Paris along the Seine. At the same time, he divides the surface vertically guided by the three trees. True to the geography of Venice, the Giudecca is at the distant left, while the churches and buildings of the city proper are closer to the Giardini.
The three figures seated at a café table in the park are placed nearest to us. The demure young shawled woman in profile is of the poorest class of Venetians, a popolana who sits with her fan carefully placed in front of her. She is likely the nursemaid of the lively, well-dressed girl snuggling up to a bare-headed man who may be her father. Morrice leaves his identity to our imagination. Placing the figures away from the center of the picture gives the image its modernist air of casualness and informality. Unusual for his canvases of Venice, there is no oil on wood panel that functioned as a study for this painting. A drawing in the National Gallery of Canada's Morrice Paris -Venice sketchbook shows the three figures seated around the same table in more relaxed and animated poses, but without any setting (fig. 1). Another pencil image in the same sketchbook has two sets of similar chairs and tables separated by a curved tree, but is devoid of people. The seated popolana here undoubtedly evolved from his paintings of models in his Paris studio, dressed and coiffed as Venetian working women.
Figures at an outdoor café was a common theme in Morrice's Venetian pictures but his popolane women accompanying higher-class children are usually shown walking, not seated. It is also rare for Morrice to paint a male Venetian unless, like the hatted figure at the right, he is a gondolier or a workman. The play of triangular shapes derived from their poses, their clothes and the table and chairs, enhances the presence of this vignette of a private conversation in the shade of verdant trees. Morrice's contrast of light and dark clothing and furniture, amplified by the child's luscious pink dress and the vibrant blue of the popolana's fan - colours that are generously repeated in the water and the sky - give a tempered vivacity to this modern narrative where nothing really happens.
Morrice places his second popolana to the right of the center of the painting, which again reflects his modernist way of making the scene less monumental and more a glimpse of everyday life. Set apart from the seated figures by the gently curved tree that extends the height of the picture, she stands elegantly at the long marble balustrade, looking over the water. The young popolana often appears in Morrice's paintings and his many drawings of shawled Venetian women also attest that she was one of his favourite motifs. Her sensuous pose and carefully draped summer shawl with its long fringe may also owe something to Ukiyo-e woodcuts that influenced many Parisian painters, and Morrice was attracted to Japanese prints and fans. Turning her back to both Morrice and to us, she projects a grace of bearing and dignity that also implies the distance between Venetians and foreigners, and the separation of their world from ours.
The popolani couple to her right balances the three seated figures. The older and plainly dressed female looks to the graceful red-haired woman to her left, while her similarly dark-clothed companion, like the nearby popolana, ignores everyone as he looks at the lagoon. The compact, solid figures contrast with the thin golden gondole docked at the water's edge and the casually draped boat coverings on the balustrade. The triangles of the two gondolas, the popolana's shawl, the man's hat, and the bell towers in the distant cityscape are subtle echoes of the same shapes at the opposite side of the image. Like the trio at the left and the central popolana, the couple are sheltered and secluded by the overhanging foliage.
The distance between the pair of popolani and the other figures gives each person their own place in the picture, and underscores the rhythmic spacing of objects across the canvas. Morrice further links the figures by painting each head in a slightly different position, like people in a relief sculpture. Hats and hairstyles also playfully connect the figures, and the women's topknots are humorously echoed in the shape of the church domes. The extended marble balustrade unites the upper and lower parts of the painting, and is the touchstone for how we see the rest of the image. Morrice's quickly-painted trees also determine the space and pace of the picture in much the same way as they articulate the composition of his Parisian paintings of the Quai des Grands-Augustins. Contained by the lacey foliage, the flowered lawn, and the elegant railing, Public Gardens, Venice gives us a glimpse of ordinary people in an extraordinary place.
The calm, opalescent lagoon along the central plane of the picture shimmers in the late afternoon sunlight. Morrice's transparent dappled water carefully contrasts with the opaque and sombre tonalities of the park; and its opalescent texture gives the Bacino its own substance and significance. His zigzag strokes of patterned colour at the right are his usual way of showing the reflection of Venetian buildings on the ever-present canals and waterways. The lone gondolier is as delicate as one of Morrice's pencil drawings, and the only sign of movement on this still summer day. The swan-like boat and the distant church of the Redentore to its left are also present in his sketchbook drawing of tables and chairs along the Bacino. The gondolas - in motion or moored - signify traditional Venice and their ongoing role in Venetian life; but Morrice adjusts their size and placement to suit the sensibility of the other objects in the painting. At the distant center of the canvas are the equally historic and distinctively colourful sails of fishing boats from the lagoon island of Chioggia. However, Morrice leaves out the freighters and steamboats that also plied the Basin of St. Mark and symbolized modern, industrialized Venice.
Morrice's lush and richly toned sky takes up almost half of the painting. With subtly deeper colour and more open brushwork than on the Bacino, the mottled sky appears like a bejewelled curtain floating over Venice. But its glimmering, gauzy surface disguises Morrice's careful application of closely-toned colour. The silhouettes of the trees, although darker in colour, are more delicately painted and divide the sky into triangular sections. Two trees aligned to the sides of the canvas are cropped to show only their topmost branches. They frame the distant waterscape and also flatten the image so that the illusion of deep space is relatively contained. Morrice elongates the distant shore to create a solid horizon line that gives gravity to the center of the picture and at the same time it divides the image in half. By joining the island of the Giudecca to the eastern part of the city, he describes the optical illusions that often occur when looking across the Bacino at Venice.
The distant cityscape is also not entirely accurate and derives largely from Morrice's various sketchbook drawings, his other paintings of the Bacino, and his memories of Venice. He adjusts the position of the church of the Redentore to the left and takes liberties with the size and site of the island church of San Giorgio Maggiore, the domed Salute church, and their adjacent buildings towards the right. Such fine tuning gives harmony to the architecture and enriches the musicality of the picture. Morrice's Public Gardens, Venice is his evocative response to this magical Paradise of Cities. The picture inspired accolades by art critics and surely inspired the early 20th century images of the Giardini Pubblici by the Quebec artist Clarence Gagnon, who admiringly likened the effect of colour in Morrice's paintings to "opening a box of butterflies."