Lot #35

A.J. Casson
O.S.A. Lake (Georgian Bay, White Rocks)

signed lower right; titled “O.S.A. Lake” within the right margin; titled “Georgian Bay, White Rocks” on the reverse
10.75 x 13.75 ins ( 27.3 x 34.9 cms )

Acquired directly from the artist
Private Collection, Ontario
By descent to the present Private Collection, British Columbia
A.J. Casson quoted in Megan Bice, Light & Shadow: The Work of Franklin Carmichael, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, page 7
One of the Group of Seven's most treasured sketching regions, Killarney Provincial Park spans the north end of Georgian Bay. Franklin Carmichael came first to Killarney in the mid 1920s, followed by artists A.J. Casson, Arthur Lismer, and A.Y. Jackson. In the early 1930s A.Y. Jackson learned that the region surrounding Trout Lake in southern Killarney was about to be clear-cut and he petitioned the government to preserve the shores of the lake. His efforts were successful and Trout Lake was renamed O.S.A. Lake in recognition of the Ontario Society of Artist's critical role in the preservation of the land.

The marvelous, rugged landscape of the region is captured masterfully in watercolours by Franklin Carmichael and A.J. Casson. The close relationship between the two artists began in 1919 at the firm Rous and Mann when Casson was hired as Carmichael's young apprentice. Casson remarked that “over the years we became close friends and associates in the art world. He took me on many sketching trips...Everything I know about the craft of painting he taught me.” A major contribution by the two artists to the Group of Seven was their revival of the art of watercolour painting. Casson and Carmichael greatly enjoyed working with the medium and organized the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour with the help of artist Frederick Brigden.

In Casson's striking “O.S.A. Lake”, we see the effects of the close working relationship between the artist and Carmichael. The La Cloche vista is rendered with a raised perspective, viewed as though looking into a valley, allowing for a great amount of detail leading from the foreground into the high horizon. Varying levels of hills and water draw the viewer's gaze into the distance, the soft palette of greens and blues heightened by the appearance of magnificent white quartzite rocks which rise from tree-covered shorelines. A keen awareness of compositional design and a control of the medium culminate in the masterwork, underscoring Casson's mastery of watercolour and devotion to the Ontario landscape.

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Alfred Joseph Casson
(1898 - 1992) Group of Seven, PRCA, OSA, CSPW

When the young A.J. Casson first took a position as design assistant to Franklin Carmichael at the firm of Rous and Mann, he could not have known the remarkable direction his career would take. The demanding but affable Carmichael became a friend, mentor and sketching companion. In fact, it was Carmichael who introduced Alfred Casson to members of the Group of Seven at Toronto’s Arts and Letters Club. The dedicated artist began to exhibit with the Group and became a natural successor to Frank Johnston when he left to pursue other interests.

In his depiction of the more settled areas of southern Ontario, A.J. Casson was deliberately seeking out subject matter that set his work apart from the preferred material of other Group of Seven members. Alfred Casson’s strong design background shaped a unique painting style, characterized by graceful lines and carefully considered compositions. With the passing of time his style underwent a subtle change in which pattern became an essential element in his work.

In addition to his dedication to excellence in his own work, A.J. Casson was instrumental in the formation of important Canadian art organizations such as the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour, the Canadian Group of Painters and the WWII War Artists Program. There can be no doubt that over a long career, which spanned much of the twentieth century, Alfred Joseph Casson left an indelible mark on the Canadian art landscape.

  • 1898   Alfred Joseph Casson born in Toronto
  • 1912   Studies at Hamilton Technical School under John S. Gordon
  • 1913   Apprenticeship at the Laidlaw Lithography Company in Hamilton, Ont.
  • 1914   Apprenticeship at Commercial Engravers Company
  • 1915   Freelance designer
  • 1915-1917   Studies at Toronto Central Technical College under Alfred Howell
  • 1918-1921   Studies at the Ontario College of Art under J.W. Beatty
  • 1919-1926   Assistant Designer to Franklin Carmichael at the design firm of Rous and Mann Ltd. 
  • 1920   Carmichael introduces Casson to Group of Seven members at Toronto’s Arts and Letters Club
  • 1921   Exhibits for the first time with the Ontario Society of Artists;  accompanies Carmichael on an extended painting trip to Rosseau Lake in the Muskoka district
  • 1922   Exhibits for the first time with the Group of Seven
  • 1923   “Clearing”, is purchased by the National Gallery of Canada; becomes a member of the Ontario Society of Artists
  • 1925   Founding member of the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour together with Franklin Carmichael and F.H. Brigden
  • 1926   Becomes a member of the Group of Seven upon the departure of Frank Johnston;  accompanies Franklin Carmichael to the design firm of Sampson-Matthews;  becomes an associate member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts;  buys a car and begins to explore the small villages and hamlets of Southern Ontario
  • 1926-1930   Sketches in the regions of Haliburton and Lake Superior
  • 1928   Sketching trip to Lake Superior with A.Y. Jackson, Lawren Harris and Franklin Carmichael
  • 1933   Co-founds the Canadian Group of Painters after the dissolution of the Group of Seven, following the death of J.E.H. MacDonald
  • 1936   Anglican Church at Magnetawan is purchased by the National Gallery of Canada
  • 1939   Becomes a full member of the RCA
  • 1939-1945  Appointed as a member of Canada’s War Records Committee;  helps to establish the WWII War Artists Program
  • 1940   Elected President of the Ontario Society of Artists
  • 1942   Appointed Art Director of Sampson-Matthews
  • 1946   Appointed Vice-President of Sampson-Matthews
  • 1949   Publishes “The Possibilities of Silk Screen Reproduction” in Canadian Art magazine
  • 1948   Elected President of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts;  receives the Province of Ontario Award
  • 1954   Awarded the Gold Medal for Excellence in Canadian Advertising
  • 1955-1959   Appointed Vice-President of the Art Gallery of Ontario
  • 1957   Retires from Sampson-Matthews in order to pursue painting on a full-time basis;  awarded Gold Medal from the University of Alberta
  • 1967   Awarded Canada’s Silver Centennial Medal
  • 1970   Awarded the Royal Canadian Academy Medal; conferred with an Honourary LL.D. from the University of Western Ontario
  • 1971   Conferred with an Honourary Degree from the University of Saskatchewan
  • 1973   Becomes a Fellow of the Ontario College of Art; awarded the City of Toronto Award of Merit for distinguished public service
  • 1975   Conferred with an Honourary LL.D. from the University of Toronto
  • 1977   Awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal
  • 1979   Awarded the Order of Canada
  • 1980   Conferred with an D.F.A. from Mount Allison University
  • 1982   Conferred with an Honourary LL.D. from McMaster University
  • 1991   Awarded the Order of Ontario
  • 1992   Dies in Toronto at the age of 93