Cab stand, Montreal c.1926 by Peter Clapham Sheppard OSA, RCA
The recent success of the book, Peter Clapham Sheppard: His Life and Work, followed by record-breaking prices for hitherto unknown masterworks, herald the rediscovered legacy of this forgotten early twentieth century Canadian modernist. And with it, a new chapter in our art history has begun which seeks to advance and further define Canadian art outside of the Group of Seven during this period of formation of our national school of painting and cultural identity.
Powerful works such as this one have not been seen in almost a century and their reappearance marks an exciting and fresh renewal of interest, for scholars and collectors alike, in Sheppard and other artists that deserve the recognition that eluded them.
Cab Stand, Montreal captures the quintessentially Canadian image of early village life and local economy: the central market. Unlike the unpopulated landscapes of his more famous peers, Sheppard’s foreground figures provide scale and humanity…an empathy that stemmed from a man whose father and relatives were brick makers in Toronto. Even the anthropomorphic horses feel the bone-chill of our snowy winters and momentarily rest from the daily burden of their labours. Sheppard was a master draughtsman and colourist as evidenced by the solidity of the figures and the bravura with which he applies the nuanced and saturated harmonies of related hues on the walls of the timeworn colonial architecture. There, the three rounded bay windows, bordered in a complimentary value of rich crimson, organize the composition into three separate groups and narratives. Furthermore, the horses and the men occupy three different depths of a shallow foreground, perpendicular to the flat wall, in a space of which the viewer is a part.
Cab Stand is a masterful painting of balanced colour harmonies with beautiful touches of complimentary notes in a composition equally balanced and stabilized by the interplay of verticals and horizontals.
Sheppard’s rich and rediscovered artistic output, still unexamined and undervalued at this point, offers us a keyhole to our past, richly preserving a collective memory that is crucial to our identity and culture. It is a rich and precious legacy, touching our lives with quiet consolation and beauty. Masterworks such as Cab Stand live on as images of captured moments forever frozen in time and, as with all great art and literature, are all we can ever know of immortality.
Curator, Peter Clapham Sheppard Collection