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Curatorial Interpretation – Nichole Martin
Early and late period Watson paintings have an entirely different look and feel due to Watson’s life journey and the path he decided to take. When Homer Watson painted “The Isle of Orleans” he was an aging artist in his 60’s, a widower (his wife Roxanne passing away in 1918) and whose paintings were falling out of fashion amongst the Canadian art scene and abroad due to the emergence of The Group of Seven. This Homer Watson was a far different man then Watson the young man. His twenty-five year old self was in contrast a Canadian success story, thrusted upon the international Art world after painting “The Pioneer Mill.” Watson, the young emerging Artist who was friends with Oscar Wilde, paintings were owned by Queen Victoria and who lived briefly abroad in the United Kingdom, travelling throughout the English and Scottish countryside’s and painting all the beauty he saw with his loving wife Roxanne by his side.
Instead of continuing to live abroad in the United Kingdom and continuing in this more British style of painting Homer Watson changed course and choose a different path, returning to Canada and living out the rest of his life in his boyhood home of Doon. With the decision to paint and fully embrace this Canadian landscape that surrounded him, Watson’s painting style changed to a more expressionistic one in order to capture what he felt and saw. The beginning of this shift in style is evident when comparing these two
painting’s Watson painted of the same subject matter “Summer Storm” (1890) and “Evening Scene” (1894). The earlier painting “ Summer Storm” was painted shortly after Watson returned from England and as author Darlene Kerr states in her book on the artist “The Landscapes of Homer Watson: A Particular Time and Place, this painting is “reminiscent of the English artist John Constable in its darker colouring and moody staging.” A few short years later in 1894 Watson depicts the same subject matter in an entirely different light that shows the beginning of this new style of painting.
Starting in 1923 after the purchase of his first automobile, Watson began completing entire paintings outside amongst his subject matter. This is one of the reasons why his later paintings were done on smaller canvases. As a young man Watson would only sketch outside of what he saw and do the actual painting inside his studio walls. This factor may be why his late period paintings have a more free- feel and stronger connection to nature in them. The traveller depicted in “The Isle of Orleans” for example consists of just a few brushstrokes, by painting him this way the traveller becomes engulphed by the nature and all its beauty that surrounds him on this spring or summer day, you the viewer feel this connection and oneness with nature as the traveller must have felt.
As Watson grew older health problems; loss of hearing, a series of heart attacks beginning in 1927 along with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 which left him in financial ruin, made him retreat further into himself and his beloved Doon countryside. Strangely despite all these set –back and being near the end of his life Watson paintings became more emotionally charged and alive, especially compared to the paintings he did as a young man. You the viewer can almost feel that strong force of wind and hear the sound of the trees rattling when looking at one of his late period paintings. Homer Watson wrote of this artistic change in styles himself in a letter in 1922” I consider smooth, meticulous painting is an offence against the vital feeling one has when studying the beautiful and strong forces of nature as we have it in Canada… The paint must come alive with vitality and not dead with inane prettiness.”
Curatorial Interpretation – Janine Foertsch
In 1889 Watson began to learn the technique of Etching. His desire was to reproduce his famous painting, The Pioneer Mill, 1879, oil on canvas. The painting was completed for the opening exhibition of the new Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and was purchased by the Princess Louise and the Governor General, the Marquis de Lorne and then given as a gift to Her majesty Queen Victoria. Under the guidance of genre painter George Clausen, Watson honed his etching skills and then asked permission to visit the painting in the private apartments of Windsor Castle. Using a sharp metal tool, Homer engraved his image onto the copper plate then submerged the plate into etching solutions that, upon exposure, intensified the depth of each mark. The artist then rolled an even layer of ink on the plate and using a printing press transferred the image onto paper. Using this technique Homer created some of his most interesting pieces focusing on the element of line to capture interest and emotion. Explore these unique artworks arranged for display by Janine Foertsch, Curatorial Assistant.
Not a lot is known about Phoebe Watson (1858-1947), the younger sister of Homer Watson; her diaries remain at large. But what we do know is that Phoebe was a caregiver, business women, gardener, landowner, community worker, traveler, lover and friend. She threw parties that everyone wanted to attend. In the height of the depression, she invited guests to a “backward” party and asked them to dress in old forgotten clothes. She opened the door for guests, and holding a lighted candle, dressed in her mother’s old fashioned nightgown, welcomed her guests with a “Good Bye” in true backward greeting. Among all her traits this woman of mystery was most celebrated as both a feminist (before there was such a word), and artist for which she received great accolades and awards previously reserved for men. Phoebe wrote: “Women’s influence on the world at large is always felt, how can it be otherwise?” Phoebe’s hand painted china became admired and collected on a national level. Among her paintings on display at the gallery you will find a tall black vase skilfully painted in art-deco flavour with scenes of glowing colours of the famous sunrises and moonlit nights on Lake Huron. You will also find lush red roses, painted in free falling wisps on a small bowl and be drawn to the subtle flowers outlining a women’s vanity set. Drop by the gallery to find out more about Phoebe and see her work.