Sale of Hewton was Rare Chance to Own a Canadian School Masterpiece
Randolph Stanley Hewton, R.C.A. (1888-1960)
“Village on the Lower St. Lawrence”, c. 1925
Oil on canvas, 50″ x 57″
Hewton was one of three guests to show in first Group of Seven exhibition
In Canadian art, the number of collectible artists is limited and, at least as concerns the 19th Century greats and those up to the pre-World War ll period, their most celebrated works have generally long been in the collections of the major museums, never to return to the marketplace. The iconic stature of the painting I am referring to here, as it relates to the career of the artist, recalls Tom Thomson‘s “The Jack Pine” or “The West Wind”, J.E.H. MacDonald‘s “The Tangled Garden”, Arthur Lismer‘s “A September Gale, Georgian Bay”, Albert Robinson‘s “Returning from Easter Mass”, Clarence Gagnon‘s “Horse Racing in Winter” or Maurice Cullen’s “Winter Night Craig Street”, 1899. Although we have sold many major canvases over the years, we cannot recall the last time a commercial art venue in our field had the opportunity to acquire what is likely the definitive masterwork by an artist of the “Canadian School”. With the Painting Canada: Tom Thomson & The Group of Seven exhibition finally home after successfully touring the U.K. and Norway, the opportunity is fitting. We are proud to announce the acquisition of “Village on the Lower St. Lawrence”, by Randolph Hewton.
As many readers will recall, Hewton was one of three guests invited to showcase his paintings in the first Group of Seven exhibition in 1920 and he was also a founding member of the Beaver Hall Group. One should have reason to believe that he, like the other two guests, Robert Pilot and Albert Robinson, could have joined the Group of Seven at its inception had he been willing to relocate to Toronto. He was greatly respected by his colleagues in the Group but shared the now-famous studio at 305 Beaver Hall Hill (the namesake of the Beaver Hall Group) in Montreal. At this critical juncture in Canadian art Hewton became Principal of the School of the Montreal Art Association (now the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts). Thus, he remained in Montreal, routinely joining A.Y. Jackson on his sketching trips to Charlevoix and the lower St. Lawrence, following the receding snow line, sometimes in the company of Albert Robinson and Dr. Frederick Banting.
“Village on the Lower St. Lawrence”, c. 1925 is Randolph Hewton’s most important, finest and, as best we know, his largest composition, a truly brilliant achievement in the true spirit of the Group of Seven and painted during the golden era of “Canadian modernism”. The voluminous impasto heightens the essentialization of forms. Hewton’s manipulation of space, obvious topographical exaggerations and colourful arrangement of village edifices serves to deliver the idealism of the movement. The scale of the work effectively creates harmony with the vast and magnificent landscape of the Charlevoix region. This masterpiece is in striking visual accord with Arthur Lismer‘s explication of the technique employed by him and his peers: There is “no timid play of subtleties, but bold and massive design”.
Hewton’s output was limited compared to his colleagues, a fact which can be explained rather easily. Married and in need of a secure income (which painting did not offer back then) Randolph Hewton accepted a position in 1926 at Miller Brothers, a paper firm which in 1933 moved its headquarters to Glen Miller, Ontario. In A.Y. Jackson’s tribute to Randolph Hewton, written for the catalogue to our 1961 Hewton Retrospective, Jackson cited these increasing responsibilities and, eventually, the move as impediments to Hewton’s mobility as an artist. The development of a bronchial condition then prevented him from painting out of doors and discouraged his production beyond studio work. Ultimately, his wife’s deteriorating state of health resulted in the end of his painting career.
When Hewton died in 1960, my grandfather handled the estate, and in 1961 the gallery hosted the retrospective that I referred to previously. A.Y. Jackson not only wrote that very nice tribute to Hewton, but also attended, along with Arthur Lismer and Edwin Holgate. “Village on the Lower St. Lawrence” was the cover picture on our catalogue and numbered 1 in the exhibition. The Montreal Star covered the show and reproduced a photograph of the work. As the painting’s appearance in the estate sale implies, Hewton kept it in his personal collection until he died. During the estate sale in 1961 we placed it in a private collection in Montreal, where it has been ever since.
There are few opportunities to own “the best of the best” but the ability to acquire what is likely the definitive masterwork by an artist of the Canadian school is an extraordinary opportunity, maybe even unique. We are very proud to have it back.
Copyright Jonathan Klinkhoff