When a small Group of Seven painting of a forest fire first emerged in Whistler last winter, Wendy Wacko, the executive director of the Mountain Galleries at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, put it on sale with the blessing of the owner.
With three Mountain Galleries in three Fairmonts, including Jasper and Banff Springs, the painting was able to tour Western Canada with the aim of flushing out buyers for the $28,000 price tag.
And while Forest Fire, Franz Johnston's circa 1929 depiction of a country road with smoke rising in the distance, hasn't sold yet, what it has done is encourage other Group of Seven owners to come forward.
Now two others are for sale and have now gone on show in Whistler.
Joining Forest Fire is another Johnston painting. The Golden Road, an early morning scene or a quiet, snowy road in the midst of a forest, is for sale at $38,000.
"The Golden Road has a very interesting story," Wacko says. "The client's grandparents owned a munitions factory in Saskatchewan, and this painting was gifted to them in 1941 as a thank-you gift for their war effort. That painting has been in the same family from the beginning. (The provenance) is very important to us."
Arguably the third painting, by A.Y. Jackson, is the most interesting. Camsell Portage depicts a northern Saskatchewan town. It came from an Alberta collector.
"The A.Y. Jackson is a considerable size and it's a very prestigious piece, Camsell Portage is a very fascinating subject and this painting was done before the oil industry got up there," Wacko says.
The record for an A.Y. Jackson of the size of Camsell Portage (21" x 25") is just under $800,000. The owner, says Wacko, is entertaining offers, but declined to be more specific. She says it is about matching the owner with the right buyer.
"The range for his work can be huge, from just under $70,000 to $800,000," Wacko says. "To have a painting by any one of them in our collections to talk about, to educate visitors to Canada... it's a tourist attraction."
The paintings are already being previewed but an open reception is at the gallery on Saturday, June 7, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. The exhibition remains at the Mountain Galleries in Whistler until June 25, and then will go to the Jasper Mountain Galleries.
In Jasper, where the three have already been on show, the local school brought their youngsters in to take a look.
"They came in in groups and it was really fun to get them excited about landscape painting," Wacko says. "Landscape goes in and out of fashion over the years, and it is comic right now that young painters think they're coming up with something new when they come up with non-objective abstract. They should see what happened."
Wacko says she expects a lot of interest.
"I think this past spring in Whistler is the first time that Group of Seven paintings have been exhibited," she says.
Along with the three Group of Seven oils, some "very interesting historical works" by Doris McCarthy are also part of the exhibition, having been recently released from her estate.
"Because we've represented Doris McCarthy for decades, and she lived to 100 and died in 2010, and she was the last living artist to have worked with the Group of Seven. She worked for Arthur Lismer for a decade, teaching his children's art classes. She was the next generation," says Wacko.
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