I try and stay current on the news and read the newspaper headlines daily if possible. It is an old habit. I suppose there could always be worse habits to have. Because of this, I notice that there has been much talk recently about war.
There are a couple reasons for this. The situation in Crimea and the 100th anniversary of the onset of WWI would appear to be the most obvious.
Not only that, but the British Columbia Museum Association earlier today held a conference and forum which talked about World War One, so we will be seeing more and more centenary exhibitions in the near future relating to this event in the near future.
Today I want to talk about two pieces that are available, which relate to World War I. Both works are from France.
One of the artists was an official Canadian war artist and the other served in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces (CEF) although it would seem obvious as you will see later, that he must have created work when in the service.
Cyril H. Barraud [1877-1965]
Cyril Barraud is significant for being the artist credited with teaching W.J. Phillips how to create an etching. The etching at the top is one of Barraud’s. He immigrated to Winnipeg from England in 1913. He was trained as an artist in England at the Brighton School of Art. He later went on to be significant force in the Winnipeg art community and was one of the founders of the Winnipeg Art Club and served as president of the Manitoba Society of Artists.
Barraud was commissioned as a lieutenant with the 43rd Battalion of the CEF in 1915 and subsequently was transferred to the 79th Cameron Highlanders a few months later. He served in France and saw heavy fighting until he was wounded in the leg in 1917. Following his war injury recovery he returned to active service and served at Vimy Ridge but returned only a few weeks later. He was one of the first Canadian artists hired by Lord Beaverbrook for the War Records Office and was later seconded to the Canadian War Memorials Fund (CWMF).
The now retired, former curator of prints at the National Gallery of Canada, Rosemarie Tovell wrote an essay A National Work: Canada’s Printmaking Program During the Great War which was incorporated into the book North American Prints, 1913-1947; An Examination at Century’s End edited by David Tatum and published by Syracuse University Press in 2006. Here, she talks about Cyril Barraud’s etchings from WWI, most (if not all) of which are in the NGC collection (which she would be very familiar with given her position at the NGC). She states:
Throughout his active duty, Barraud had kept sketchbooks with him, and some of these drawings became the basis for the twenty-two etchings and aquatints he made for the CWMF. Most of these prints were based, however, on sketches made from late-August to mid-October 1917, when he returned to the Continent to sketch Canadian battle zones around Ypres and Vimy Ridge-Arras sectors. It is these prints from these later drawings, made when he was apparently suffering the lingering effects of shell shock, that have the most powerful imagery of the war – a war of desolation, destruction, and death.
Barraud’s prints for the CWMF were among the most sought after by collectors at the time of their publication, and they remain so today. Current collectors find in his art the stark reality of this war, striped of the usually jingoistic traditions.
Another copy of this print is in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada where it depicts the town of Ypres. Although signed by the artist, the title is not written on this print, but is called Ypres from Bund Dugouts, circa 1919 as evidenced by the following link.
I also do need to state in the spirit of transparency that this work does have some condition issues. Somewhere along the way prior to it being framed it received a few visible creases. It is unfortunate, but it can be corrected somewhat if one is willing to spend the money. It is also priced accordingly.
George Blair Brown [1878-1965]
George Blair Brown is an interesting character in the development of printmaking in Alberta. There is very little information on him and few of his works are illustrated. He really has slipped under the radar for the most part, although he usually does get mention when printmaking in Alberta is talked about – usually in passing or as a footnote – probably because there is little information on him.
You know it is sad when a simple internet search for information on George Blair Brown is made, and the primary result of it is George W. Bush’s paintings of Tony Blair. I could go on about that, but I will not.
Sadly, this only confirms my previous comment – most don’t talk about G.B. Brown’s art because there is little information, and there is little information because no one talks about him. But I digress.
Most will repeat variations on what Bente Roed Cochrane states in the standard reference book Printmaking in Alberta: 1945 to 1985 published by University of Alberta Press or what Donald S. MacDonald states in his Dictionary of Canadian Artists.
Essentially what most biographies will state, is that after immigrating to the Edmonton area in 1910 from Scotland, George Blair Brown took up printmaking in the 1920s. Typically also mentioned is that prior to his arriving in the Edmonton area, he was an engraver and that he continued to do so after an absence. Because of that, it is certain that he knew the printmaking process and was trained in it somehow.
This information is confirmed through the Archives Society of Alberta. They probably have the most concise information available on the artist. I apologize in advance for copying what they wrote. It relates to his fonds which are located at the Provincial Archives in Edmonton. The fonds comprise mostly of his art prints that he donated near the end of his life. I have done this because it talks about his military service record which no one else seems to have mentioned. It has never really been material to his artwork, like it is with Cyril Barraud. The rest of the information is more or less already known as recounted by Bente Roed Cochrane, Colin S. MacDonald and others. Here is the link to the page I copied from:
George Blair Brown was born in Solsgirth, Clackmannanshire, Scotland on November 23, 1878. Brown trained as an engraver in Stirling and Glasgow, Scotland and he became an expert in metal chasing and repousse. Brown moved to Killam, Alberta on April 15, 1910 intent on becoming a farmer. On a holiday to Edmonton, however, he was persuaded to return to his trade as an engraver. Later he served with the Canadian Forces during the First World War and was with the 49th Edmonton Regiment from 1915 until 1919. After the war he returned to Edmonton and in 1923 he became a member of the Edmonton Art Club. Four years later, in 1927, he became Vice President of the club. He was also a member of the Canadian Society for Graphic Art and the Society of Canadian Painter-Etchers and Engravers. In 1933, Brown commenced etching and devised a method of printing, not related to a mangle or plate printing press. Brown also worked out a new process, which he called “Fire Etching” in which he used dry-point repousse and heat treatment to secure a range of colours without the use of pigment. In later years he turned to wax painting, not having the strength to handle the new plates in engraving. His etchings have been exhibited all over the world including an exhibition at the World’s Fair in New York. George Brown died on November 30, 1965 in Edmonton, Alberta.
My long introduction is to show that consensus would seem to indicate that he did not do work before the 1920s. Here is a work that is dated from 1917. Of course it is only dated in the plate, so it is possible that it was produced after the fact, based on a drawing from 1917. As a result, it is possible that the 1920s time period may actually still apply.
As with Barraud, the plates potentially may not have been produced until a year or more after the drawings were made. Etching and/or engraving is a labour intensive process (and I will get my catty remark in, because I can and it is my blog, unlike photo-reproduction prints – which far too many think are art and not the poster that they really are). It is quite possible, especially without any access to a print register or correspondence that we may not know exactly what timeframe this was produced. For our purposes, we will stick with the 1917 date.
This all led me to investigate the battle honours of the 49th Edmonton Regiment during WWI. I found that the regiment fought a number of important battles in similar areas as the regiment that Baraud fought with. Almost all of them were in France. They are as follows – Mount Sorrel; Somme; Flers-Courcelette (where Barraud was injured); Ancre Heights; Arras; Vimy Ridge; Hill 70; Ypres, Passchendale; Amiens; Scarpe; Hindenburg Line; Canal du Nord; Pursuit to Mons.
It is a sensitive print. I suspect that this is a dry-point etching as we do know that he did dry-point prints based on the Archives biography. It has the tell-tale evidence that a dry-point etching will leave. It is quite different than most I have seen from George Blair Brown which are more matter of fact in their presentation.
This print has an atmospheric quality that softens the edge from the subject, almost to the point of being somewhat sentimental – which is an interesting way to present a subject as devastating as war. So it is possible that it was pulled a significant time after the fact, which would lend itself to a more sentimental treatment to the subject. As the saying goes – time heals all wounds.
The next two prints are other available works that George Blair Brown pulled. Over the years of dealing in art, I have probably sold somewhere in the range of maybe ten to fifteen of his prints. It is quite rare that I encounter more than one at a time. All three of these works come from the same collection.
The above work is of Mount Burgess which is located near the Alberta-BC border in Yoho National Park. Biologists would know of it from the term Burgess Shale which is a fossil bed with black shale which is located nearby. Often George Blair Brown used mountains as subject. This is typical of his work.
This work is untitled, but as with the Mount Burgess piece there is a mountain in the image. Here the black bear is an integral part of the image. Another dealer I was talking to recently had indicated that he has handled this image before.
He typically does not edition his prints and in some cases does not sign them either. As a result it is hard to tell what his edition sizes are, but because of the amount of pieces that come onto the market, I am guessing his editions must have been small.
These are the pieces of the day.