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  A.Y. Jackson, Night on Skeena River  
"Powerful" Jackson Canvas Sold by Klinkhoff is One of only Five
by Joan Murray on MAY 30, 2013

A.Y. Jackson produced some magical paintings in the 1920s. Made with a bold, expressionist touch and rich colour on medium-large canvases, his images of landscape, Quebec villages and the homes and poles of the First Nations have a remarkable staying power. Whatever he painted, Jackson’s work always involved a modernist re-thinking of lessons he had learned in studies abroad which he combined with a new kind of liberty discovered through contact with Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. While his earlier work had a darker palette and denser composition, in works such as Night on the Skeena River, the forms seem to sing to each other across open space.

  1. "Powerful" Jackson canvas sold by Klinkhoff is one of only five by Joan Murray
  2. Private Sale of A.Y. Jackson’s "Night on the Skeena River by Alan Klinkhoff
  3. A.Y. Jackson’s Skeena River Canvases by Jonathan Klinkhoff
 Read More
A.Y. Jackson Artist Page
Arthur Lismer Painting an Appropriate First Acquisition
Private Sale of A.Y. Jackson’s "Night on the Skeena River"

"I felt a little as if beaten at my own game." – Emily Carr in 1927, upon seeing Jackson’s Skeena River paintings
As in other works of the 1920s, Jackson painted the scene as though he was alone in the landscape. In this work, the viewer feels instinctively Jackson’s ability to create a powerful and poetic mood. As the critic Fred Jacob wrote of Jackson’s works of 1924 such as Dawn – Pine Island (McMichael Canadian Art Collection), each presents "a mood of nature perfectly expressed with refinement that does not mar the power of the conception."

A.Y. Jackson | Hazelton, B.C. 1926 | Drawing 21.3 x 27.6 cm | National Gallery of Canada (nº 17470r) Purchased in 1973 | Courtesy of the Estate of the late Dr. Naomi Jackson GrovesA.Y. Jackson (1882-1974) | Hazelton, B.C. 1926 | Drawing 21.3 x 27.6 cm | Property of the National Gallery of Canada (nº 17470r) | Purchased in 1973 | Courtesy of the Estate of the late Dr. Naomi Jackson Groves

Jackson painted about five canvases from studies made during his trip to the Skeena River in 1926. Of the works known so far, this canvas and Kispayaks Village in the Art Gallery of Victoria are the largest. "Night on the Skeena" is closely related to a drawing in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada, on which Jackson wrote "Hazelton, B.C." However, as in other works he painted of this area, he generalized the totem poles – he had drawn them in detail only at Kispiox farther down the river. Without much that was specific in First Nations information to convey, he diverted the viewer’s attention to what he knew he could paint with devastating power – the northern lights in the sky, the light on the water and the mountain ranges in the background, indications of the way he felt about the place he visited.

One feature in the painting reveals Jackson’s preference in painting totem poles — he and Edwin Holgate who was accompanying him on the trip to the Skeena in 1926 with Marius Barbeau preferred the way the poles leaned forward or backward to being set in concrete straight in the ground as the Canadian National Railway engineer who was with them, a Mr. T.B. Campbell, had been charged with doing. (When the two men complained to him about the way he was straightening the poles, Campbell replied that he could not put up leaning totem poles, but he added; "You can make them lean any way you like in your drawings.")

Jackson also recorded in his autobiography that the way the poles were being restored in terms of colour was absurd. The First Nations had only a few earth colours, which Jackson described as "quiet and dignified," as he painted them here.

In the exhibition of Canadian West Coast Art, Jackson’s work was not singled out for as much praise as the aboriginal art and the work of Emily Carr, but Marius Barbeau choose to reproduce "Kispayaks Village" in his book The Downfall of Temlaham (1928), proof that Barbeau recognized the importance of Jackson’s contribution. Jackson himself knew that he had made new strides in his work on the Skeena and specifically in this painting. In a letter of 27 June, 1933, Jackson wrote to Barbeau that he included this work on a list he made of the works he considered his most important. Emily Carr also recognized and appreciated Jackson’s Skeena works. In 1927, she visited Jackson in his studio. She recorded in her Journal, that she "loved his things, particularly …three canvases up Skeena River… I felt a little as if beaten at my own game. His Indian pictures have something mine lack –rhythm, poetry," she wrote.

Carr likely looked at this painting, which Jackson would have had ready to take to the exhibition at the National Gallery. Later, Jackson’s niece Naomi Jackson Groves wrote that it was Jackson’s canvases on Skeena subjects that "truly imprinted Emily with new richness and poetic mood and sent her back to do her own great ‘new visions.’ Paintings such as Night on the Skeena can therefore be regarded as about one great artist using the work of another as a touchstone to emulate. She would have recognized in paintings such as this work the rightness with which things fit together. A.Y. Jackson here achieved a kind of lock of different parts, a coherence that leaves the viewer entranced by his achievement, essentially private in spirit, but tough and of fascinating beauty.

Written by Joan Murray
Copyright © Joan Murray

Joan Murray is one of Canada’s leading experts on Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. She also has authored more than 25 books on the history of Canadian art, most notably Canadian Art in the Twentieth Century (1999), Northern Lights: Masterpieces of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven (1994), and McMichael Canadian Art Collection: One Hundred Masterworks (2006), published over one hundred catalogues and two hundred articles. See her web site at

Private Sale of A.Y. Jackson’s "Night on the Skeena River"
by ALAN KLINKHOFF on MAY 29, 2013
from a blog post on blog post on

We are both proud and thrilled to orchestrate the private placement of A.Y. Jackson’s magnificent canvas, "Night on the Skeena River" of 1927 from its original family of owners to a new generation of stewardship. This important composition was originally featured in the iconic exhibition of Canadian West Coast Art, Native and Modern in 1927 at the National Gallery of Canada under the title "Totems, Hazelton, B.C" before being rechristened the following year by Jackson as "Night on the Skeena River".

Although we did not have the pleasure of serving the original owner, who acquired the painting from Dr. Jackson in or before 1933, we have been familiar with the following two generations of the same family. We are always proud to mention our familiarity with Jackson himself, who kindly sold to my late father many of his fine paintings and had an exhibition of his Baffin Island paintings here in 1965. More recently we received occasional and encouraging visits from his niece, the late Naomi Jackson Groves.

I do think that my mother, Gertrude, brother Eric and son Jonathan would agree that this painting "Night on the Skeena River" is the finest painting by A.Y. Jackson that we have offered for sale and likely the most important canvas by him we have ever seen for sale in the market place during our participation, which goes back 60 years.

We were gratified that the new custodians of this important painting solicited the input and opinion of their beneficiary before its purchase, thereby assuring " Night on the Skeena River" of two generation in this fine home.

Admittedly, the price was not inexpensive. However the painting is of superlative quality, importance, of the utmost desirability, as well as being only one of five known canvases from the iconic Skeena River trip of 1926 by Dr. Jackson and one of maybe two canvases from this trip not already in museums. To suggest its scarcity and desirability is gross understatement.
On behalf of my family and our business, we are honoured to have represented the original owners of "Night on the Skeena River" in this transaction and to have found it an important home for two additional generations.

Additionally, it is a distinct pleasure to marry "Night on the Skeena River" with an appreciation by distinguished Canadian art scholar and curator, Joan Murray, one of Canada’s leading experts on Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. Please tune in tomorrow to read her appreciation, or sign up for our e-mail list to receive this and other highlights and event notices from Klinkhoff.

A.Y. Jackson’s Skeena River Canvases

Continued discussion regarding our discovery of the important canvas by A.Y. Jackson, "Night on the Skeena River", 1927, has prompted me to write a few additional comments.
Prior the re-emergence of "Night on the Skeena River", 1927, the available evidence led us to believe that Jackson had "worked up" six canvases from the sketches he had painted during his trip to the Skeena River in 1926, and a seventh canvas at a later date. Excluding the later canvas, the figure six was a composite, using titles taken from the various exhibition records of the period, as well as a letter written by A.Y. Jackson to ethnographer Marius Barbeau in June of 1933, a letter in which Jackson listed those works that he considered his most important along with their current owners.
At the time we acquired "Night on the Skeena River", 1927, only four of the known Skeena River canvases had been seen by contemporary researchers:
"Kispayaks Village" (Art Gallery of Greater Victoria)
"Skeena Crossing" (McMichael Canadian Art Collection)
"Indian House, Port Essington, B.C."
"Totems, Hazelton, B.C." (this was known from records and an old photograph of the 1927 exhibition Canadian West Coast Art, Native and Modern at the National Gallery of Canada, a copy of which can be found in Dr. Charles C. Hill’s book "Emily Carr".)
Unknown were the whereabouts of the paintings by two other titles:
"Dusk at Usk"
"Night on the Skeena River" (this title appeared in A.Y. Jackson’s 1933 letter to Marius Barbeau but no image of the painting was known.)

When we acquired the painting known as "Night on the Skeena River", three indicators led us to conclude that it was the same painting known to researchers as "Totems, Hazelton, B.C.". First, "Night on the Skeena River" has a direct relationship to the drawing A.Y. Jackson had titled "Totems, Hazelton, B.C." (National Gallery of Canada). Additionally, the work had been acquired from the descendants of the original purchaser identified by Jackson as the owner of "Night on the Skeena River" in his 1933 letter to Marius Barbeau. Finally, and most definitively, Dr. Charles Hill’s book "Emily Carr", contains a black and white photograph of the National Museum of Canada’s (today National Gallery of Canada) 1927 exhibition Canadian West Coast Art, Native and Modern in which this painting can clearly be seen hanging but which the records from the exhibition refer to as "Totems, Hazelton, B.C". The latter was first brought to our attention by an astute client.

When the painting arrived at the gallery from the United States, it was the first time in 80 years that the art world had the opportunity to see the work we knew only by Jackson’s 1933 title, "Night on the Skeena River", and cross reference it with the drawing in the National Gallery and the painting found in the image from the 1927 exhibition, both titled "Totems, Hazelton B.C.". Relying on this evidence and also in part on our first hand experience with the artist, we can suggest that sometime between its original showing in the 1927 exhibition Canadian West Coast Art, Native and Modern and its sale in or before 1933, Jackson changed the title from a documentary one to a more poetic one. We were therefore able to whittle down the number of known canvases painted shortly after Jackson’s return from the Skeena River to five. Of those, "Night on the Skeena River", 1927 is one of only two that are not in permanent museum collections, that is if the other one, "Dusk at Usk", still exists. The present location of "Night on the Skeena River" can be recorded as "Private collection".

Throughout our research, we were in consultation with distinguished curator Joan Murray, who is a leading expert on the Group of Seven and author of the Tom Thomson Catalogue raisonné. Murray also did a great deal of research and penned a marvelous essay about "Night on the Skeena River", which we encourage you to read. Further valuable information was provided by Dr. Hill, who is the senior Curator of Canadian Art at the National Gallery of Canada and author of the book "Emily Carr" in which the photograph of the West Coast Art exhibition appears.

The location of Jackson’s sixth Skeena River canvas, the one painted in 1943, is widely considered unknown. Researchers will be pleased that its location is known to us. One day we would delight in the opportunity to present it in the same fashion as we did "Night on the Skeena River", 1927.

We also thank our followers, particularly the astonishing number of enthusiasts who had in some cases done many years of their own research and willingly shared it with us. I am optimistic that this will serve as additional clarification.
Galerie Alan Klinkhoff
A.Y. JACKSON, LL.D, R.C.A., O.S.A. (1882-1974)
Night on the Skeena River / Totem Poles, Hazelton, B.C., 1927
Oil on canvas 25" x 32"
Galerie Alan Klinkhoff
A.Y. Jackson (1882-1974) | Hazelton, B.C. 1926 | Drawing 21.3 x 27.6 cm | Property of the National Gallery of Canada (nº 17470r) | Purchased in 1973 | Courtesy of the Estate of the late Dr. Naomi Jackson Groves
Galerie Alan Klinkhoff
A reproduction of the photo from the 1927 exhibition,"Canadian West Coast Art, Native and Modern"
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