Wednesday, April 3, 2013

F.S. Coburn Vs. Alex Colville

I was hoping to find something like this by F.S. Coburn at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, but no.  I use this picture in a scene from Diary of a Confirmed Spinster. F.S. Coburn was from Melbourne Quebec and I have my heroine homesick in 1910 after she loses her great love in the Rossmore Hotel Fire.Coburn, apparently, liked to paint horses.

I was hoping for a Coburn but I found a Colville. Same page in the Canadian Painter's Who's Who!

Same ungulate, decidedly different effects.

This painting, horse and church or something,  is iconic, but not as iconic as horse and traintrack. Am I right?  I do love Colville. I have loved him since I first saw his photos, whoops, paintings photographed in Time Magazine.  He's an iconic Canadian.

So, it came as a bit of a surprise to me, yesterday, at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, to find this painting in the gallery that is at Sub-basement 2, beside the elevators that lead to the Old Museum on the North Face of Sherbrooke.

Hanging there, like an afterthought. "Where do we put this?" "Ah, put it over there." I assumed it was a print!

I took this picture with my phone.  Same with this little Matisse portrait. Matisse, my favorite!

 A portrait painted  in 1917, when this Museum in the original building  housed the WWI Recruitment Fair but instead of portraits shells and guns and saddles were on display. I wonder what Matisse did during the war. I know from Renoir's son's memoir of the great painter that he happily played both sides, or neither side.

Here's a stab at a first scene of my story Sister Salvation. Edith Nicholson drops by the exhibit.

Dorothy Nixon.
1st paragraph, 1st Draft Sister Salvation.
February 23, 2013.

May 1917.

Let there be light!

Yes, when I first walked into this main salon of the new art gallery on Sherbrooke Street West, I had to blink my eye lids repeatedly and all because of the dazzling brightness.

The exhibition hall is no larger than the old one in the Art Association building at Philips Square, but the skylight is much bigger, so the room is far far better illuminated.

 This must be good for looking at the fine works of art, I thought.

But, on this sunny spring day, there were no elegant oil paintings stacked 4 and 5 high on the walls of the hall.
Just paper posters plastered everywhere, on every free space: small posters, large posters and two enormous ones on the North and West Walls.  
One giant poster exclaiming: Go with the men of the 245th. Canadian Grenadier guards. The other one imploring: Come Lads give us a spell, with a drawing of a soldier carrying another man on a battlefield.

The art gallery has been turned over to War Recruitment.

I didn’t want to be there, in that room (a decidedly female place when an art gallery and now a disturbingly male place)  but just that morning I had been asked a favour by my friend Miss Brittain,  to drop off a suffrage petition with a certain Colonel Bolton who was manning a booth there.

Miss Mabel Brittain is on the executive of the Montreal Local Council of Women, and the Council wants to help Premier Borden meet his goal of 500,000 new recruits while getting in return a promise from the  Prime Minster to give women the vote in the next election. 

A kind of tit for tat.

Hence the petition.

“If we women are going to support Borden’s Union Government in the conscription cause, the parents of enlistees can sign our petition for woman suffrage,” the old maid teacher said, sniffling because of a cold.

“It’s to their benefit. With women having the vote  these parents can be assured that there will be plenty of replacements arriving in future to relieve their brave sons.”

It seemed ridiculous to me to have parents of would-be soldiers sign a suffrage petition just when they are deciding whether or not to make the ultimate sacrifice.

You don’t have to be a wife and mother to know that.
I could see a small family group wandering about the exhibition, a father, mother and tall tall sober-faced son. The father seemed resolute, his chest puffed out, his head held high, but the pretty middle-aged mother looked despondent, dragging her feet like an over-worked parlour maid.

Also a group of five young men, hardly old enough to shave, checking out a large display of ordinance and laughing and poking each other in the sides with their index fingers pointed like pistols and their thumbs pulling imaginary triggers.

The art gallery today is filled to the brim with a military display of guns and rifles and an array of glistening brass shells and even a few highly-polished saddles. Everything to impress the red-blooded Canadian male.

A few minutes after I arrived in the room, once my eyes had become adjusted to the bright light, I approached my contact Colonel Bolton, an older red-cheeked moustachioed gentleman, a veteran of the Boer war, who was standing behind a counter talking up the Royal Highlanders, and introduced myself and handed him the suffrage petition and a pad of foolscap paper.

He slyly slipped my package under the counter and said, “Why don’t you stay, eh? Nothing like a  pretty girl to attract the young men. And you a Nicholson, is that Isle of Lewis or Skye?”

“Yes, both,” I stammered. “Skye and Lewis.” I must have sounded shy but the truth is I was shocked.

It is unseemly to think young men could be lured to their doom by a pair of limpid blue eyes and raspberry lips.

And besides, at 34, I was far too old to impress the males in this particular room, who looked more the age of my high school students back at home at St. Francis College in Richmond, Quebec.

I was no longer a school marm. I had been working for three months as a stenographer at Sun Life Insurance in their crowded offices on Notre Dame. Hence my acquaintance with Miss Brittain, who shares a comfortable townhouse with her sister on Tower Street, five doors down from my boarding house.

“It’s important to get them to sign on the dotted line, right away, the Colonel added. “You can’t give them too much time to think about it.”

I so desperately wanted to get out of there, but couldn’t think up an excuse.

Then that ugly fear always lingering lately on the margins of my thoughts  burst to the fore and made my forehead bead up with sweat and my breathing quicken.

What if a boy from home, an E.T. boy, a boy I have taught Bible Studies or English Composition walked into the room and approached this counter to ask me the dreaded question, the humbling question: “Who in your family, Miss Edith, has enlisted? Your brother Herb? Your brother in law, Hugh?”

What would I reply. To a young man thinking of signing up for battle. It would be too humiliating. And I didn’t have so much as a boyfriend at the front.

So I did the girlish thing and feigned illness.

“I’m sorry. I am feeling faint. I must leave, and I walked away brusquely, my elbow brushing the hip of a freckle-faced youth, no more than 16, leaning over a display of photographs of Quebec soldiers at Valcartier, soldiers in kilts, Highlanders, “The Ladies from Hell”(as the German’s supposedly called them).

Brother Herbert should be in one of those photos, I thought as I headed for the exit.

But, then, how would that make me feel any better?

The Museum today from the new entrance across the street.

 Belle Epoque. Possibly some of these same paintings were in the museum 100 years ago!