Portraits Page 5c.3

Great Canadian Art & Artists

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
"But the mother was too quick for him..," Arthur Heming, 1925
Orig. oil on canvas - Size - 55.5 x 60 cms
Found - Pottageville, ON
Signed, Original frame
A spectacular discovery is this rare and priceless artistic treasure, by Canadian master painter Arthur Heming, which recently turned up at a small town Ontario auction.

You can go many years without seeing an oil by Arthur Heming! It's easy to see why. They are such spectacular works no one who ever gets one would ever think of giving them up - until death do us part!

In fact, after years of seeing none, two spectacular Hemings have recently come on the art market only because the owners had passed on. Otherwise, Heming originals are impossible to get a hold of, for love, or money.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

How absolutely fabulous to find a copy of Arthur Heming's The Living Forest, that he had personally inscribed and autographed the year it was published. Kate, who further inscribed it as a Christmas present, is perhaps his daughter...

A wonderful treasure from the elite artist at whose feet JEH Macdonald of the Group of Seven learned about painting...

Inscription & Autograph, Arthur Heming - The Living Forest 1925
Orig. inscription - Size - 11 x 12 cm
Found - Brighton, ON

Not Just a Pretty Face

Not just content to be - like some - just a pretty painter, Arthur Heming was a famous and most accomplished author of adventure books on the Canadian North, as well, publishing Spirit Lake in 1907, The Drama of the Forest in 1921, and The Living Forest in 1925.

No Canadian painter, of any generation, traveled as far or more extensively, into Canada's Great Northern wilderness regions, or painted with more authority on what he discovered there.

He illustrated his books with his fabulous paintings, like that right, an original master in oil, painted to illustrate The Living Forest in 1925.

Arthur & the Groupies

Works by the Group of Seven are more common than wallpaper, or Bateman prints; everyone has one, or two - "I have eight Jacksons, how many have you got?" is a most common social snort heard among the urban illiterti - we already heard this at upscale Toronto parties in the 60s - as they pomposit endlessly over stale hors d'oeuvres, with staler conversation.

There isn't an art auction, whether in Vancouver or Toronto, which hasn't got a dozen Jacksons for sale. It's easy to see why; everyone wants to get rid of them; they can see the same ones at their friends' house! It's hardly social upmanship when everyone has eight Jacksons. So they're - by far - the most common paintings to be found at leading Canadian art auctions. Most are being endlessly circulated by art dealers trying to entice lower echelon members of the snoberati into trying for their first.

That's not to put AY down; it's not. Or that AY wasn't any good; he was, in fact, as good as it gets. His painting style was innovative and recognizable; his best canvases unsurpassed by any artist, anywhere.

But AY painted a lot, and he lived to be old. Which makes for a lot of paintings... lots. And prolific is not another word for masterpiece.

AY was driven to paint. He had that inner urge to get something down on canvas - anything, anytime. Quality was not what he was after; painting was. That's why there are so many Jacksons around. And, inevitably, so many that are boring, indifferent, dare we say - bad, ones. (Johnny Cash wrote over 500 songs. Care to hear them all?)

And that is all right with AY - and Johnny - because they created for themselves; what AY painted, he felt or saw at the moment. When he was out of sorts he still painted. To keep painting was the point. It was therapeutic. It doesn't mean your therapist's notes make great literature.

AY Bitters - We can recall hearing AY's loud voice booming through the McMichael Gallery in the late 60s, complaining that no one paid the Group any money for their art when they were alive. And now, when his work was getting notice - and high prices - it was too late. All his painting friends except AJ, were dead, and got no benefit. Nor did he, since he was too old to paint new work. It was all art dealers in the second hand trade that were making all the money. Clearly, in moments of despair, AY regarded his fellow painters as "failures." It was hard to hear a Canadian icon, spending his last days in bitter reverie.

AY would be just as bitter today because he knows the truth of all this current bogus interest in his art - that no one really gives a damn about what's on all those toss-off sketches of his that are all over the place on the art market. All they really care for is his autograph; they're social climbers who want bragging rights, so that they can say - "Oh, I have a Jackson! He's Group of Seven you know!"

It's intended to be a conversation stopper at balls, and it works, out of jealousy, because you don't have one, right? No one ever asks the obvious follow up, What's it of? Road kill, or a cow turd? because that's not why it was bought, and no one among the snoberati really cares what's above the signature, whether a flattened groundhog or a cow pie. It's a Jackson, for heaven's sake! Probably wavy hills and saggy barns. Don't you know anything?

The suits and gowns are there to exchange signatures and numbers. "Oh you only have one Jackson, we have eight. Any Lismers? We have three!" That will make any upstart shrivel into silence, and insist that her stockbroker husband make a few more cold calls for clients when they get home.

No one at cocktail parties ever says, "I have a wonderful picture of hills in Sault Ste. Marie that I just love. You must come by to see it. The colours are really nice! It reminds me of my in-law's place in Pickering." Those who've observed the urban snooterati at play know that's not what one says to impress. Besides that's not why you bought it anyway.

"I have a Jackson." There now you have it. The subject doesn't matter or the indifferent canvas. The autograph, that is what it's all about.

It's a good thing AY is dead; he would not be pleased that his name was being used mostly for games of social upmanship by Canada's CEO and stockbroker crowd, and not to promote Canada and the countryside he loved to paint.

Adventures with Arthur: Arthur Heming was different than the Groupies; he was a solo act.

As fine an artist as any of the Magnificent Seven, and just as driven to express himself in paint, Arthur was a lot more than just a self-indulgent artist.

He was a purposeful painter.

His canvases are not merely momentary palpitations of palette passion on some wavy hillside in Quebec, or Algoma, like those of AY and the Group, but were painted to tell a story bigger than himself, and something more portentous than merely plopping paint on a palette to grab a momentary effect or view, or just to capture some passing wind or ray of light.

Arthur Heming's passion was for creating canvases that told stories that connected Canadians with Canada, past and present.

The Group was just interested in Canada as it looked to them then. Their intellectualism - spawned in the dining room of the Arts and Letters Club on Elm Street in Toronto - was entirely wrapped up in discussions on experimenting how best to represent the here and now. Heming was too, but was equally interested in the Canadian outdoors of the past, a heritage legacy and subject matter totally ignored by the urban Group of boys from Toronto.

In front of an AY canvas you can overhear the predictable, "Nice eh! Nice waves, the furrows in the field, I mean, and the saggy roof lines. Nice picture. Real nice! Eh!"

And it would all be true, and nice too!

But in front of a Hemming canvas you could talk for hours, about how he has captured the story of logging in Canada, the perils of the drive, or the York boat and the role it played in Canadian history, or his stunning mastery of backlight which no Groupie could match - with the possible exception of Lawren Harris on a good day. (By far the best painter of the Group, he could do anything, superbly, except paint Canada's wildlife - though we did see a couple of camels he painted once. Probably he saw it was no use competing with the talent and experience of Arthur Heming, who saw no purpose in painting camels as he encountered few in the Canadian wilderness and international snobbery was not a colour on his palette.)

Most of the Groupies were midday Kodak men - capturing, mostly, frontlit images of scenery in the hours after breakfast and before supper - unlike most professional cameramen who get up early and stay out late to shoot during "Magic Hour," that tiny window of spectacular light at sunup - when the Group was sleeping -and sundown - when they were eating - to get their very best shots.

Heming was a Magic Hour painter. Good breakfast and early supper were not colours on his palette. He painted only canvases with spectacular light that would last, that were worth doing for their own sake, not just because he felt the need to put something down on his sketch pad that day.

Beyond Nice! Just like the Group, Arthur got the scene down to reflect what he saw of the Canadian wilderness. But where they left off, he kept on going, expanding his canvases to express the intellectual history of Canada.

He thought it was important to keep Canadians in touch with Canada, all of Canada - not just the pretty but the heritage too; not just the country but the people too; not just the landscape, but the wildlife too; not just the artistic, but the educational as well. Why, like the Group, do Canada by halves?

It is why you can stand in front of a Heming canvas and talk about it and what it represents - for hours... Well a long time...

It is also why he produced far fewer canvases than AY.

Heming kept the quality up; that was important to him. If art wasn't passing on an important message it wasn't worth doing. He was willing to wait for the time to be right, the purpose to manifest itself...

It explains why very few of Heming's original works ever appear on the market.

Masterpieces rarely do; and owners do not want to give them up.

Until Death Do Us Part!

In fact the first two Hemings to appear on the Canadian art market in years - during a period in which hundreds of AYs have shown up - became available only because both owners died.

Arthur Heming's art had to be pried out of their hands.

Could there be a finer testament to the art of Arthur Heming, a superlative talent, and Great Canadian Painter extraordinaire?

Beloved by Canadians, who, though proud of his signature, absolutely cherish, above all, the works of art on which it appears.

He reigns, we believe - along with fellow extraordinary multitasking talent, Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté (1869-1937) - as one of the two finest artists ever to portray Canada and Canadians.

Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. - 1996, 1999, 2005

Who has painted an angrier bear, with more authority, than Heming, when he captured this mother leaping to the defence of her cub.

Robert Bateman painted his bears with hairlike accuracy; Heming chose to capture their character instead.

Who else has painted a leaping bear, or imbued one so accurately, with such power and grace, both at the same time?

And all those who have seen active wild bears up close can say "Right on Art! You got the feeling and body language exactly right!"

Castrated Canada!

What member of Canada's vaunted Group of Seven - or is that Eight, or Nine? - ever tackled a wildlife subject? Praised, by some art illiterati, as the artists who best represented the Canadian outdoors, it is clear these urban snoberati have never traveled far beyond the city limits of the Toronto, Ottawa, or Montreal cocktail circuit.

It is a fact; the Group of Seven totally ignored Canada's wildlife, obliterating it from any of their so-called wilderness landscapes. In fact some say that Rachel Carson decided to name her book Silent Spring after seeing a Group of Seven show which she thought had been staged to illustrate the dreadful effects that chemical pollution had wrought on Canada's bird and animal populations.

Praised for traveling into the backwoods to discover Canada that was fast disappearing, in the urban-blighted areas where they toiled for their daily bread, the Group went out to look, but did not see - or paint - the animals and birds that were there all along, and are as much a part of Canada's great outdoors as any hill, tree, field, or mountain, which, to be fair, they captured with artistic precision.

In fact the land and wildlife are inseparable to anyone who has traveled in Canada's backwoods. Just what did those Toronto boys see out there on those painting trips?

Probably none of them had the talent or cared to take the time to paint wildlife - which takes another whole set of painting and observational skills to do successfully.

Instead, the Group of Seven gave us a Canada that was both soundless and static; without wildlife, and without action.

For whatever reason, they chose to portray a castrated Canada.


Light, Palette, Action... Heming!

What a stunning departure from the Group's view is the real Canada that Arthur Heming captured with this wonderful canvas, which captures the Canada countless Canadians have discovered since the Group passed on, full of birds and wildlife, and with an enthusiast in the wild midst of it all.

In Heming's day only a paltry few Canadians had ever seen - let alone heard - an ultra-rare Whooping Crane; only a few dozen remained alive on the breeding ground in the far Canadian North. So no one could paint them - even standing still - with any authority. Not so Arthur Heming who had observed them in their remote haunts and was able to paint these awkward birds in action so realistic that the whole canvas seems to be in perpetual motion. And alive with their panic-stricken raucous squawks, and snorting and splashing bears...

Who, in the Group of Whatever, has a canvas to match?

With only a minimal palette, but a whole world of observational experience, Arthur Heming has wonderfully captured the snorting of a cub in panic as it dog paddles frantically, trying to escape danger and keep its head above water.

And Heming - like his fellow historical artists, JD Kelly, CW Jefferys, and AH Hider - gave us the ruggedly handsome face of the typical Canadian who made this country what it is today.

Right below, the art as it appeared in The Living Forest, complete with caption.

Below, more illustrations from the same book by Arthur Heming, showing his superb mastery of light, atmosphere, action, and wildlife.

Sitting Down on the Job

Much has been made of the so-called wilderness excursions of the Group of Seven.


They were city boys most of the year... Though they were sometime tourists in the outdoors when the weather was nice.

Far from venturing out in the freezing cold to interact with nature, and experiencing the Great White North, they waited until it was warm in spring before they left their comfortable urban haunts to venture out into the wilderness.

Hey, they were typical Canadians.

Then, like typical Canadians, they only walked long enough to find a place to sit ... But they chose to paint, instead of cracking a six-pack.

To them the canvas folding stool was their primary vehicle of interaction with the wilderness. They weren't there to commune with nature; they had come to sit and paint, and as their sketches make clear, to write what colour went here and there on their pretty scenes, for later reference when they got back to town.

They had come to put their eyes to work - not their ears - darting between the rocks and the palette; the trees and the paint board; the bush and the mixing pot. In their intense concentration, they probably never heard a thing, that flock of waxwings overhead, that fox, skirting around, that bear sniffing the air behind them. Animals and birds were a nuisance anyway; they moved too fast for you to note down their colour...

That's why they loved to paint stuff that stayed put: mountains, hills, fields, barns. So they wouldn't have to move their stool!

By contrast - as you can tell by reading his books - Arthur Heming never sat on any stool, but was on the move, in every season, by canoe and on foot in summer, by dog team and snowshoes in winter, always listening, watching, and recording, in his notebook, every wilderness sound and wildlife activity he encountered.

No tourist painter he, sitting down on the job. He was a man of action who revelled in interacting with nature, on every level; his eyes, ears, and brain, his very psyche, were tuned in to every sound, every movement that Canada's great outdoors could throw at him, whether animal, mineral, or vegetable.

He digested it all and made it palatable and understandable, in Hemingwayesque simplicity, to the legions of Canadian and international readers of his outdoor adventure books.

And what a writer! When he hears mysterious new bird sounds, he describes them so well that you know, beforehand, exactly what he will find when he goes to investigate - a flock of Bohemian Waxwings!

He remains without peer as the premier Canadian wilderness explorer, wildlife raconteur, and interpreter of the Great Canadian Northlands.

Oh, and did we mention - that he could paint too!

Arthur Heming - 1870-1940 - 3

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