Roberts Gallery Blog
Roberts Gallery Blog

A.Y. Jackson Spotlight

September, Lake Superior, 1925

In 1921, Lawren Harris, Arthur Lismer, and Jackson went on a sketching trip in the Algoma region. Lismer had to cut his trip short, as he was to return to Toronto to teach at the Ontario College of Art for the beginning of the fall. Harris and Jackson, without any obligations to get back, continued their trip to explore the North Shore of Lake Superior. Jackson’s first impressions of the area was that it was cold, grey, and uninviting, but thanks to Harris’ enthusiasm Jackson picked up the brush. The broken trees, rounded rocks, and isolated pools were really what fascinated Jackson. The great expanse of Lake Superior would serve as the backdrop for his rugged landscapes of rolling hills, rocks, and twisted tree trunks.

Harris and Jackson had made a trip to this area an annual tradition, and in 1925 they were joined by fellow Group member Franklin Carmichael, and his young assistant A.J. Casson. While Jackson and Harris were producing oil sketches, such as this piece, Carmichael and Casson found the stark, open skies on the shore of Lake Superior were perfect for watercolours, and the quick drying time was an added advantage on these trips.

St. Urbain, March 1933

A.Y. Jackson’s springtime sketching trips of rural Quebec were an essential part of his painting career for over 25 years. St. Urbain and Saint-Hilarion (dubbed Saint-Hilarious by Jackson and his mates) became favourite spots for these sketching trips. Jackson and long-time friend Randolph Hewton made the trip to St. Urbain in 1932 and returned in the spring of 1933. Old farm buildings, winding gravel roads, and snow-covered fields were a staple of Jackson’s career in the 20’s and 30’s. During this time the main mode of transportation through rural Quebec was by horse-drawn sleighs, which Jackson often included in his work to add a sense of life. The 1940’s came with many modern advancements including, and much to the displeasure of Jackson, the invention of the ever-so-loud snowmobile. Old barns were being torn down to give way to new buildings, paved roads, and straight fences. Jackson wrote off many towns and cities in the area, however St. Urbain remained a peaceful safe-haven for Jackson.

Cranberry Lake, October, 1940

The La Cloche Hills region was a very important sketching area to the Group. Franklin Carmichael had the strongest relationship with the area, so much so that in the mid 1930s he built a cottage at Cranberry Lake. Jackson visited in October of 1940 and produced several sketches on the trip.


Mine Shaft South of Pincher Creek, c. 1950                                                              McDonough Lake, Eldorado Mines c. 1949

Jackson’s first trip to southern Alberta came in the fall of 1937 to visit his brother Ernest, who had moved to Lethbridge. Pincher Creek became a familiar spot for sketching trips, taking trips in 1945, 1947, and 1949. With fields of grazing cattle that you would find in the Prairies and the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, it is no wonder Jackson found endless beauty and calmness in this area.

Throughout Jackson’s career commissions of mining towns and areas were quite common, and although there is no record of a commission of this area, the familiarity with mining subjects made Pincher Creek even more appealing. The Eldorado Mines, located near Great Bear Lake and the village of Port Radium, is another area frequented by Jackson. He described the area as “a little centre of industry in a great empty wilderness.”


Untitled – Opening to Georgian Bay, c. 1960                                                           Untitled – Go Home Bay, Georgian Bay, c. 1958

A.Y. Jackson, a founding member of the Group of 7 in 1920 had an impressive and long career as one of Canada’s most beloved artists.  Like most artists, as they age, their travel for sketching trips becomes less adventurous.  Jackson was fortunate to experience good health and continued painting throughout the 1960’s.  The majority of his work from this later period were painted in the Georgian Bay region.  It had always been one of his favourite subjects and he met and developed many friendships with cottage owners in the area.  These 2 panels from this later period around 1960 were done while staying with a family at their Go Home Bay cottage.

They would typically drop Jackson off at a chosen sketching spot in the morning and come back for him later in the day.  He generously would offer them a choice of the panels at the end of his stay.  These two works are from such a relationship.  They show Jackson as an active artist still keen to experience the Georgian Bay landscape and paint at a very high level.