Saturday 29 April 2023

History corner ~ April 2023 by John Lover

In a review of the IASC Annual Exhibition of 1925, the Victoria Times art critic made this note of one of the first-time exhibitors: “Mrs. Drummond’s studies of wild animals are arresting. This artist is already well known for the method of her work as well as for the work itself, as she made long journeys into the wilds by dogsled, in order to study the wild animals in their native haunts.”

Nora Georgina Drummond, born in Bath, Somerset in 1862, was an artist and illustrator, whose work typically featured dogs and country pursuits, such as hunting, in Britain and Ireland and later in Canada. She was a member of an impressive family of artists, growing up surrounded by art. Her father was a former Master of the Bath School of Art and Design and an art tutor of the Royal Family, and two of her uncles were painters of some distinction and influenced her choice of subject matter.

Drummond was already an established artist in England when. together with her husband, Daniel Davies, she emigrated to Canada shortly before the turn of the century.  Initially they lived in Banff, Alberta, where she worked as a private tutor in painting and illustrations, adding Canadian wild animals to her repertoire.  One of her pupils was Peter Whyte, who later set up the foundation for the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. He recalled her as an eccentric woman who lived with eleven dogs and hordes of cats, but also as an excellent teacher. In the 1920s Drummond also taught at the Banff Public School.  

She became best known for the illustrations she produced for Raphael Tuck, a British publishing company with interests in the US and Canada, which produced an extensive range of art postcards.

Drummond subsequently moved to British Columbia, where she also enjoyed landscape painting. She joined the Island Arts and Crafts Society, exhibiting in its annual exhibitions from 1925 to 1932 and at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 1933. Allegedly she was rather unfairly referred to by a waspish fellow artist Emily Carr as “the old tabby who paints cats and dogs.”  

She died in 1949 at Goldstream, Vancouver Island. Her works are in the collections of the New York Public Library, the Whyte Museum and the University of Victoria.

Tuesday 4 April 2023

History Corner ~ March 2023 by John Lover

 In 1925, Lindley Crease, in a talk to the Island Arts and Crafts Society after a holiday in England, made a fascinating reference to a local artist, John Collins. Crease noted that when Collins’ pictures were displayed here – he had contributed to the IACS Annual Show in 1912 – they were given little notice.  Yet in an exhibition at Wembley, England, pictures he asked $15 for in Victoria now fetched one hundred pounds sterling.

Crease was referring to Charles John Collings, born in Chudleigh, Devon, England, a largely self-taught artist, and frustrated architect. After exhibiting with the Royal Academy in 1893, and achieving some recognition, a restless Collings, at the age of 62, moved to Canada with his family in 1910. They settled on the remote Seymour Arm of Shuswap Lake, from where Collings found lasting inspiration for his artwork.

Satisfied with his pioneer life and solitude in the mountains he remained uninfluenced by the artistic trends of the day and developed his own unique perception of the vastness and intensity of the BC landscape. An ardent climber, he hiked the Rockies and the Selkirks and continued to travel through Western Canada until his death at 83. 

He chose to sketch en plein air and finish his work in his studio, adopting the technique of using paper soaked in water and then mixing colours directly on the wet paper. Apparently, after painting a watercolour he would leave it between two panes of glass while the painting was still wet. After a period, he would remove the painting and dry it. The result of this process has been described as “a magical merging and defocusing of colours and shapes.”  

Critics have found it hard to pinpoint his unique painting style. Because its coherence and consistency reflected traits of the traditional English watercolour tradition, one likened it to J.M.W Turner, but another saw influence of Japanese painting, a persuasive suggestion given that Collings was a keen collector of oriental art and crafts. 

Given his isolation, it seems remarkable that he had attracted the interest of an English art dealer, Luscombe Carroll, who thought a visit to this “Recluse in the Rockies” justified the long and arduous journey to the wilderness of Shuswap. Beginning in 1912 Carroll featured Collings in a series of London exhibitions, entitled “The Canadian Rockies” which received critical acclaim. This success ensured that Collings would leave the management of his sales in such capable hands, and consequently he sought little contact with the BC art community, apart from occasional exhibitions in Vancouver. He also exhibited in Montreal, Chicago, and New York, where he achieved some popularity, but his paintings were sold almost exclusively in England, and, as Lindley Crease’s remarks in 1925 would suggest. he remained almost unknown in BC for most of his life.

Given his preferred lifestyle it was fitting that Collings should die at his home on Seymour Arm, Shuswap Lake, in 1931.