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James Wilson Morrice, R.C.A. (1865-1924)
Gondolas in the Lagoon, Venice (probably Giudecca), c. 1904
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Galerie Alan Klinkhoff - James Wilson Morrice, R.C.A. (1865-1924)
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Galerie Alan Klinkhoff - James Wilson Morrice, R.C.A. (1865-1924) Galerie Alan Klinkhoff - James Wilson Morrice, R.C.A. (1865-1924)
Detailed Framed
Gondolas in the Lagoon, Venice (probably Giudecca), c. 1904
Oil on panel 5" x 6"
J.W. Morrice Studio stamp
Included in Lucie Dorais’ James Wilson Morrice Catalogue Raisonné Project.
Scott & Sons, Montreal;
Mrs. William Robert Miller, née Harriet Frothingham;
By descent to Private Collection, Montreal.
  More about this painting  
This beautiful sketch is shown to the public for the first time since Mrs. William Robert Miller, née Harriet Frothingham, bought it from Morrice`s executors, Montreal dealers Scott & Sons. It then passed to her niece, and has stayed with her family until now. - Lucie Dorais

I am comfortable stating my position that James Wilson Morrice is the most important Canadian artist. It has been now a good 30 years since Canadians have seen a retrospective of Morrice’s career, but will soon again have that formidable opportunity. Morrice’s painting is of such standing that, unlike any other artist of Canadian origin previously, the retrospective will likely tour several museums in other countries before being shown to Canadians at our National Gallery.

Morrice exhibited regularly in the Salons in France for some 25 years. “This gave him a prominence in Paris and internationally, a unique phenomenon in the history of Canadian art” (Gagnon, et al. 28).

Prominent and acclaimed in France among the greatest artists of the beginning of the 20th century, Morrice’s paintings were purchased by important collections of the day including the Musée d’Orsay and Ivan Morozov. Morrice was also heralded by the Canadian art press, as is exemplified by the review in The Montréal Star of the Art Association of Montreal Spring Show, 1909, to which Morrice contributed 11 works: “This most gifted artist. [...] In Paris the art world holds him in the highest esteem and we cannot but do the same. [...] What a master he is of colour, atmosphere and sunlight! Look carefully at the misty greyness [...]” (The Montreal Star, April 1909).

Consciously bringing a Robinson thread to much of this presentation of paintings, I refer to A.Y. Jackson who related a dialogue he and Robinson entertained: “One day Robinson said to me, ‘Do you remember a sketch you made in St. Malo of the green circus tent? Do you still have it?’ He said, ‘That was one of the finest things you ever painted. It was as good as a Morrice.’” (Jackson 18). I include Jackson’s note to underline the esteem that artists of the day held toward J.W. Morrice.

Lucie Dorais, art historian, who is preparing the catalogue raisonné on James Wilson Morrice has written an appreciation of our delicate Morrice:

If we look long enough, the moon appears timidly between the two whiter clouds, just after the sun has set. Note how the artist has used the natural lines of his wood panel to give us a sense of the breeze; he cleverly played on the thickness of his paint to accentuate the clouds at the center or, on the other hand, on its thinness to simulate the evening wind over the nearly still water. On a surface not bigger than a postcard, and with a very limited palette, Morrice gives us the view, the time of day, and the weather... a lot! And yet so little... this could be anywhere, until we realize that the flat boats are gondolas, which locate the sketch in Venice.
Where did Morrice stand (or sit...) to paint our Gondolas in the Lagoon? The distance between us and the horizon suggest a view towards the island of the Giudecca; but since Morrice has not added, as he often did in this series, the dome of the Salute, he might have walked around the big church unto the quay known as the Zattere, stopping near the present location of the vaporetto stop. But it is not really important: after so many visits to Venice, the artist did not feel the need to tell us “where” he was, but simply “how” he felt. In pursuing this “Venice at night” atmospheric series, was he thinking of Monet’s Cathedral of Rouen series from 1892-93? Or, further back in the century, the famous Studies of Clouds that Constable had painted in the early 1820s? (Lucie Dorais).

* Dorais, Lucie. “James Wilson Morrice (1865-1924): Gondolas in the Lagoon, Venice.” Edited and abbreviated text from full essay. April 2016.
* Gagnon, Francois, et al, Morrice and Lyman in the Company of Matisse. Richmond Hill, Ont.: Firefly Books, 2014.
* “Review of the Art Association of Montreal Spring show of 1909.” The Montreal Star, April 1909.
* Jackson, Alexander Young. A Painter`s Country: The Autobiography of A.Y. Jackson. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin & Company Limited, 1958.
James Wilson Morrice was born in Montreal in 1865, the son of a wealthy merchant. From 1882 to 1889, he studied in Toronto to become a lawyer. As a student he began to paint landscapes in the Adirondacks and at Lake Champlain. He exhibited a painting with the Royal Canadian Academy in 1888, and in 1889, two of his paintings were hung in the spring show of the Montreal Art Association. When he was 24, he abandoned law to become an artist. He travelled to Europe, where he studied art at the Académie Julian with Henri Harpignies and became friends with Henri Matisse, Albert Marquet, and other avant-garde French artists.

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  • Morrice lived in Paris, but until the death of his parents he spent most of his winters in Montreal, sometimes sketching with Maurice Cullen and William Brymner, two Canadian impressionists. An accomplished musician and avid reader, Morrice established himself in the English-speaking literary and art circles of Paris. He adopted a way of working which he would continue the rest of his life, going out each day to record his impressions - on small wooden panels, some of them no bigger than a postcard, the bigger works were done in his studio at a later time.

    Morrice was a wealthy man and did not have to work for a living. This gave him the freedom to travel to Italy, Belgium, Holland, Great Britain, Algeria, Jamaica, and Cuba to paint. Twice he travelled with Matisse to paint in Tangier (1912 and 1913). During World War I, he was commissioned to paint the Canadian troops in action in Picardy. At this time he also started a series of portraits and model studies since travelling was more difficult. After the war his health began to deteriorate, having developed stomach problems due to alcohol abuse. Feeling well again around Christmas 1920, Morrice spent a few weeks in Canada, painting around Quebec City, then a few weeks in Trinidad before returning to Paris. In the summer of 1922 he travelled to Algiers, where he painted with Albert Marquet. After this trip his health rapidly deteriorated and was unable to paint anymore. Morrice died while on a visit to Tunis in January 1924.

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