Clarence Gagnon R.C.A.

Spring, Charlevoix, 1926

oil on panel
9x6 in.

Certified by Lucile Rodier Gagnon no. 177, 1946, label to verso 


Private collection, Nova Scotia; 

Private collection, Calgary

An integral part of the appeal of Clarence Gagnon’s works, and one of the reasons that they are still so fresh today, is the quality of artist’s pigments that he used. He was obsessed with finding good materials, and after the end of the First World War, quality, especially in commercially produced artist’s materials, was in serious decline. As a result, Gagnon began experimenting by preparing his own colours, grinding his own pigments, and preparing them as paint, and then executing works using them, beginning as early as 1922. He ordered his raw materials from Morin et Tanet in Paris1, while researching the paint-making techniques of the Old Masters at the same time. In this, he was a complete success, as his colours remain vivid and clear almost a century later.

Armed with these pigments, Gagnon was a master at the contrast of light and shadow, and in this small panel we see a deeply shadowed foreground, bathed in deep tones of blue, green, and black, offset by a brilliantly lit distance, where the sun bleaches the tree trunks to their lightest shades, and green conifers peak through between them. In the invoices for Gagnon’s 1925 and 1926 Morin et Tanet orders, we see he has purchased seven different blue and green pigments, including four variations of cobalt, which might account for the rich, yet subtle variety of blue and green we see here. Titanium white, only available as an artist’s pigment since 1921, was also on his 1926 order. A strong and stable, exceedingly brilliant white, its introduction to Gagnon’s palette was a game-changer, and adds an intensity that was unattainable with whites he was using prior to that such as flake white (which was partially titanium based), lead white, and zinc white.

Clarence Gagnon is best known for his rural Quebec landscape paintings and the illustrations for Louise Hémon’s novel Maria Chapdelaine. Gagnon was also an award winning printmaker, a passionate outdoorsman, and an active promoter of Quebec handicrafts. Clarence Gagnon was born in a small village in rural Quebec. Although he…