Art & Artists in Exhibition: Vancouver 1890 - 1950
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The Daily Province, Vancouver, September 19, 1921

PICTURES AT B.C. FINE ARTS
(First Notice)
by J. Butterfield

     The basis of discrimination in art is culture. A great critic has said that culture, by contact and comparison has developed that spirit of disinterested curiosity which is the real root of the intellectual life.
     The art of a country is an expression of its civilization; that love of the beautiful in man which develops always under the influence of material success, and whose first and simplest expression is the love of fine clothes, is responsible for the reaching out of the creative instinct and its crystallization in color, as pictures; sound, as music; or words, as poetry.
     The annual exhibition of pictures by members of the B.C. Fine Arts society (sic) is the best possible evidence of the soundness and wholesomeness of our Western civilization. The keynote of the exhibition, considered as a whole, is an abounding robustness and health; the ordinary things of the world are presented and made beautiful on the canvasses of our local artists; there is none of that lamentable and morbid striving after effect by the use of bizarre methods which has signalized many of the modern movements in art. There is freshness and the spirit of youth, as befits a new and growing country.
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     Of the 138 pictures shown, there is not one that could have been spared; many are of outstanding merit; some fulfil the functions of greatness and all are vital to a consideration of local art.
     There is a fine display in portraiture that brings the public to an intimate knowledge of the sitters; there is idiosyncrasy (sic) and personality in the portraits and the breath of life.
     The wide scope of landscape offered by the artists of B.C. brings the wonders and delights of all outdoors to the compass of a picture.
     There are not a great number of subject pictures; a return to the romance of the actual appears to be a feature of B.C. art, and it is a good one.
     The appeal of a picture is always a personal matter, and no critic has a right to say of one, "This is the best thing here;" all he may say is "Here is what appeals most strongly to my estimate of perfection and my aesthetic instinct."
     On this principle I would single out two pictures as being most satisfying. One is a portrait (119) "Capilano Mary," by Margaret A. (sic) Wake; there is a restraint and power in the treatment of the Indian woman's head that is very compelling; it has life - the best kind of life: it speaks of race, of tradition and hardship, it tells of hard work and an inherent nobility of character. There is a repose and strength in the fall of the hands that speaks not only of perception in the artist, but an attention to little things in the building of a picture. It is a portrait that puts the cachet of a real talent on the work of this artist. As if to emphasize the truth of her work the same artist has a portrait of a young girl child in pink with the elvish light of happy childhood dancing in her eyes and her hair a playground for the fairies.
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     The other picture that most appeals to me is No. 107, "Twilight in the Bow Valley," by Charles H. Scott. It is a poem in greens, the greens of old trees, water, a shaded moon and the peace of an autumn evening. What it expresses is the quiet heart of things, the depth and mystery of evening when the heart of the world throbs with a slower but more sincere beat than it does to the louder happiness of sunshine. There is sadness in it, too - just enough to make its solid happiness more complete. There is a haze over it that does not come from its paint but from the emotion of the beholder in connoting the distance and color of its mountains, moon and trees.
     In the "Courtyard of Le Petit Seminaire," Mr. C.A. Ferguson has rendered a fine piece of work in stone and blue, it has atmosphere and is eloquent of the old-cloistered calm of Quebec.
     In a "Portrait" (135) by J.H.O. Amess; we have a picture whose composition is hard and uncompromising, but whose subject figure is wonderfully conceived. I do not know who it is a portrait of, but it speaks of an earnest desire to help others; there is a tenseness of character that comes from knowing much of the lives of other people and from exercising a wide tolerance for the shortcomings of others, while preserving intact the rigid principles that have governed the sitter's own life.
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     There are two panels by Sekido Yoshida, a Japanese artist residing in Vancouver, possessing a charm and distinction belonging to the older chivalry of Japan before the veneer of Western civilization was adopted in that country and its ideals subjected to Teutonic corruption. The work has the purity of line and the imagination of Hokusai and a delight of coloring that is very arresting. His treatment of the common lupine in "Flowers" (90) puts that bloom in the garden of the gods.
     In 14 and 15 Mrs. Joan Goodall gives us two decorative panels whose presentment of peacocks and angels in silver and blue, while reminiscent of the Victorians, still manages to strike a new note in decoration.
     The "Two Sheep" (21) of H. Faulkner Smith is a restful study in evening browns and is of that placid kind of picture that is very satisfying to live with because one demands nothing of it; its sheep live in a contentment that precludes any discordant note being sounded in their presence.
     In the "Coquihalla River, Hope" Mr. Bernard McEvoy has given us the pure joy of running water, living water that throws up its head and laughs; it has the gift of wetness that so much painted water lacks and comes from what one feels are real mountains to run among real trees. It is a happy picture.
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     "Sunset" by W.P. Weston is the most daring and wonderful sunset I have seen pictured; it is a study in contrast and seems to hint of battle, the noble kind of battle that is lost before it is fought. This sunset seems to beat itself uselessly on the heads of two dull, sullen mountains; it hurls its battalions of color helplessly against their mass and indifference. It is a wonderful picture badly framed.
     Edith C. Slinger has a little gem in a "Cottage in Sussex." It is a little brick cottage with a baked clay chimney and it nestles among an ordered riot of all the old-fashioned flowers you can think of, pansies, London pride, gilliflowers, holyhocks, fox-gloves, campanula and a hundred others too numerous to name; it tells of peace and a perfumed happiness. There should be an old, old lady somewhere in the interior knitting and nodding by turns, with a kindly old wrinkled face and a knowledge of her fellowmen that makes her eyes twinkle but keeps her tongue silent.
     In the "Pirate Captive" by Victor A. Long, we have one of the few story pictures in the show. It is doubtless an exciting story but I seem to feel that even a pirate would have given the lady a bathrobe. The treatment is robust and the color good - some of the details, however, shows hurry, especially in the hands.
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     There is something of Gainsborough and something of Lawrence in "Lloyd, Son of F.R. Begg," by Miss Nora Raine Southwell. There is beauty and softness and a fine expression of the dreamy thoughtfulness and wonderful seriousness of childhood that places it among the finer and more considered works of the exhibition.
     One other picture by Victor A. Long called "The Engineer" (132), is notable for its strength and breadth of treatment. It is a portrait in the best style and shows a care and workmanship of an outstanding order.
     I hope to have an opportunity of considering many of the other pictures here. It is remarkable that a city so young in years as Vancouver and so comparatively small should still have the greatness of possessing so many people with the skill and perception to build good pictures.
     Mrs. Joan Goodall, with an exhibition of hand-woven art fabric has emphasized the beauty and utility of reviving what have been called the peasant arts. In a country where no one is a peasant in the old sense of the word and where everyone is a lord, a widespread renewal of arts and handicrafts among the country populations would go far towards making democracy a success.


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