Franz (Frank) Johnston

Sketch in Algoma

oil on panel
6x9 in.

Inscribed to verso:

Collection of Herbert L. Rous, co-owner of Rous and Mann;
Private collection by descent

Sketch in Algoma has all the characteristics of a work executed on the now famous pre- Group of Seven box-car trips of 1918 or 1919. Its vertical format, near ground field of view, colour play and
focus on pattern echo works attributed to those years. It is a gem of painting, sparkling and bright, the yellow and orange autumn leaves are a perfect colour compliment to the greenish blue hill – perhaps a
canyon side cliff face – beyond. Add the vertical tree limbs, giving structure to the work in brown, and you have a very fine painting. Further to this, the works comes to sale from the prestigious collection of Herbert L. Rous, co-owner of Rous and Mann, the design firm where Johnston worked at the time.

Johnston’s Algoma works are beautiful passages of landscape painting. As a subject, Algoma was challenging, with steep, vertical canyon walls, unexpected waterfalls, and lush forests, “where to
see the sky, one must through his head well back.” It was scenery “charted on a grand scale, slashed by ravines and canyons through which run rivers, streams and springs broadening into lakes, churning lightly over shoaly places or dropping with and a mist for hundreds of feet.”1 Subject matter like this did not suit every painter, but to Johnston it was ideal. His design training, his eye for pattern and his sense of the ornamental was manifested in sinuous lines, rich colour, and a strong sense of the organic in his Algoma works.

1. Mason, Roger Burford. A Grand Eye for Glory: The Life of Franz Johnston. Dundurn Press, 1998, p. 32.

“In Johnston one can almost see the sound swelling into the vastness of infinity. The small panel is no restriction to the eye and one stands among the stars of timeless space. Dancing formless light, subaqueous in feeling, ephemeral as Aurora Borealis. It holds one motionless in moving space.” (1)…