Artist CV:EDSON, Allan (Aaron Allan Edson)
Born in Stanbridge Township, Canada East, son of Hiram Edson and Elvira Gilmore. The family lived in Stanbridge Village, near the Vermont border, where Hiram Edson ran his hotel American House. The hotel was located next to a bank owned by John Carpenter Baker. Baker was also an art collector. He had a gallery built in the top floor of his house. The Edsons moved to Montreal around 1861 when Allan was 15. He worked for a dry-goods merchant and later for a picture framer and art dealer, A.J. Pell. He worked first as a bookkeeper but his handwriting was so hard to read that Pell moved him to the front counter where he was more suited for the job and in the course of his duties became acquainted with several artists who visited the shop including O.R. Jacobi, C.J. Way and A. Vogt. They gave him occasional guidance in his art. Baker, the former neighbour in Stanbridge always looking for paintings, was so impressed with his work that he helped finance his study in England under William Holyoake. Baker also purchased his work. Edson returned Baker's kindness by sending him some of his paintings. He made three other trips abroad, the first in Europe, the second in the British Isles and the third to Paris for five years where he studied under Léon-Germain Pelouse. Over time he married and became the father of four children. Writing to his wife Polly, he told her he was working in an unheated room in winter. He found it difficult to work with fingers stiff from cold, knowing that his landlady would charge him plenty if he asked for a fire to warm his premises. He did not trust the restaurants as he feared the worst - watery soup, cat substituted for rabbit, horse meat in place of rump steak. His special wish was to have a little coal-oil stove to cook hot meals for himself or to serve visiting friends. But he maintained his focus on his studies. He exhibited at the Paris Salon and at the Royal Academy in London. After his return to Canada he became known for his fine landscapes which attracted the attention of Princess Louise who purchased two of them which she gave to her mother, Queen Victoria. In 1970 Elizabeth Collard in an article for the Canadian Collector noted, "Although Edson did paint the expected glowing sunsets and bright skies, particularly in his earlier years, he spent much time experimenting with the effect of light filtering through foliage, and with the pattern of sunlight on a patch of ground . . . . In some of his most impressive paintings he caught the instant when the lowering sky is illuminated by a sudden momentary shaft of light. Most of all, however he loved the worn path through the woods, the mossy log, the dark recesses of the forest, with light-tinged shadows . . . . His years in France permanently altered Edson's style. There was a new freedom and subtlety that had previously been lacking. When he returned to Canada he was able to adapt successfully the French manner to the ruggedness of his Canadian subjects." After his return home he lived at Longueuil and spent much time in the Eastern Townships. At Glen Sutton, while recovering from an earlier winter illness, he was keen to capture the right light striking the ice for his painting The Frozen Cascade. He went outside to finish the work and later suffered a relapse which resulted in his death on the first day of May at the age of 42. To aid his wife and four children, an auction sale of everything remaining in his studio was organized in Montreal. More than 5,000 dollars was raised which was a record amount from a single afternoon's auction of a Canadian artist's work. In 1985, an exhibition of his work was held at the Musée Marsil Museum, St-Lambert, P.Q., organized by Professor Sandra Paikowsky, Curator of Concordia Art Gallery. The National Gallery of Canada has a good sampling of his work including early canvases like The Pike River, near Stanbridge (c. 1864), Sheep in Landscape (1869), Mount Orford, Morning (1870), Trout Stream in the Forest (c. 1875) and later works Woodland Scene (c. 1885) and Landscape (c. 1887). He is represented as well in the following collections: McCord Museum; Musée du Missisquoi; Musée du Qué.; Concordia Art Gallery and in commercial galleries such as Galerie Bernard Desroches and West End Art Gallery. Each year a few of his paintings turn up for auction (see Canadian Art Sales Index, most years).
Colin S. MacDonald
A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, volumes 1-8 by Colin S. MacDonald, and volume 9 (online only), by Anne Newlands and Judith Parker
National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada