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In the Orchard (Spring), 1892
Oil on paperboard
40.2 x 30.6 cm
Purchased with the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Canadian Art Fund
There are certain paintings that haunt one's memory from the first encounter. Such was the case with this picture of a subtle exchange between a man and woman. Both wear dark clothes and hats. He carries a bamboo cane and she holds a pink umbrella by her side. The bearded man turns his head as he addresses his companion, while she listens attentively with her eyes on the path. The details are brushed in with direct, broad strokes with subtle contrasts of lights and darks. The flowering branches form a canopy over their heads: isolated in this framed space, the engagement is intimate and poignant.
Charles Hill, the Gallery's Curator of Canadian Art, first saw this painting hanging in the home of Elizabeth Collard, noted scholar of Canadian and English pottery. She and her husband, the journalist and historian Edgar Collard, were life-long fans of the Victorian age. At a time when such nineteenth-century paintings were out of fashion, the two frequented the Montreal auction rooms, purchasing choice paintings of domestic dimensions with their hard-saved funds. They had picked up this small canvas at an auction in 1960, and it had hung in their Montreal and Ottawa apartments ever since. For the curator, it was a case of love at first sight, and during visits to the Collards he always sat where he could admire the painting's delicate light and subtle charm as he sipped his tea.
William Brymner is well known in Canadian art as a teacher and as a painter of genre scenes and landscapes in oil and watercolour. After completing his studies in Paris, Brymner moved to Montreal in 1886 on being appointed instructor at the Art Association of Montreal, a position he would hold until 1921. He was an articulate proponent of the visual arts, supporting such new movements as Impressionism, although his own paintings owe more to an earlier plein air (out-of-doors) tradition, as seen in his famous canvas A Wreath of Flowers of 1884 or Early Moonrise in September of 1899, both in the National Gallery. It has not been possible to identify this small canvas with any work Brymner exhibited, nor is its original title known. Possibly it was sold from his studio, as he had a good market for his paintings in the 1890s. If some avid collector snatchedthis up, it was a person with an excellent eye, for its directness of approach and intimacy are unique in Brymner's oeuvre.
Edgar Collard died in 2000 and Elizabeth in 2001, bequeathing her paintings and collection of ceramics to the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto. The collections were sold at auction to benefit the Library. Thanks to the great generosity of Charles Bronfman, the National Gallery was able to purchase this superb Brymner; and every time Hill sees it in the galleries, he remembers the Collards, their love of art, and the affection and respect they had for each other.