Private Sale of A.Y. Jackson’s “Night on the Skeena River”

Major canvas by Group of Seven artist had not been on the market since at least 1933

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.

3 Comments

  1. David S. says:

    Excellent article Alan; to think that it took 80 years for this painting to come up for sale, it could quite literally be a once in a lifetime event

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  2. Kerry Guenter says:

    Hi, The A.Y.Jackson painting “Totems, Hazelton,B.C.” is a different painting than this one.It is almost identical to the pencil sketch and can be seen in a photograph of the exhibition Canadian West Coast Art that appears in the book “Emily Carr” by Charles Hill of the National Gallery of Art. In this one, “Night on the Skeena”, A.Y. is up to his old tricks, adding totem poles for artistic effect. There were seven canvases from his 1926 Skeena River trip:
    1. Kispayaks Village (now in the Greater Victoria Gallery of Art, in this one A.Y. combined a south-east view of the foreground with a north-east view for the mountains for the background)
    2. Skeena Crossing (Kitseguekla), now in the MacMillan Gallery of Art
    3.Indian House, Port Essington (A.Y. included totem poles where none existed in this one too, which is also in a museum)
    4.Usk at Dusk (location unknown, but known from a sales receipt in the National Gallery of Art
    5.Totems, Hazelton, B.C.(very true to pencil sketch)
    6.Night on the Skeena ( what a surprise to finally see what this one looks like!!!)
    7.Souvenir of Kispiox ( a later painting, location unknown, I wonder if this one might be a painting of an Indian mask he had at his studio in Ottawa)
    I live in Smithers,B.C. near Hazelton and did some research into his paintings of the Skeena a couple of years ago.
    Best regards, Kerry

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    • Thank you for your comments, which are well-researched and, actually, in accordance with documentation previously available. However, close examination of the photograph in Dr. Hill’s book “Emily Carr”, wherein we see the painting referred to as “Totems, Hazelton, B.C.”, alongside “Night on the Skeena River” reveals them to be one and the same. The reason they were assumed to be different is that whereas two titles could be compiled from available documents, we knew of no visual record of the painting when it was exhibited as “Night on the Skeena River”. This can be explained by a title change: In that first exhibition the painting was exhibited as “Totems, Hazelton, B.C.”, a literal title which corresponds to the drawing (National Gallery of Canada) but when the same painting is exhibited the following year, the artist had changed the title to one that is slightly more poetic. Forgetting first hand accounts that are no longer available to us, our acquisition of the painting was the first time in 80-plus years that someone in the art world had the benefit of Dr. Hill’s research and the painting “Night on the Skeena River”, with its various labels and Jackson’s writing on the reverse. Thus we were able to establish that they were the same. We contacted Dr. Hill who concurs with our conclusion.

      For additional information including photographs of the drawing, I recommend Joan Murray’s appreciation:

      One additional note for your interest is that the location of the later painting to which you refer, “Souvenir of Kispiox” is known, although conceivably only to us. I have visited it many times. The canvases Jackson produced soon after his return from this trip were our focus here. Best regards and again thank you again for your well-researched and thorough comment.

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