In a recent article, we told you about Narcisse Poirier, one of the great twentieth-century Quebec figurative painters whose work has suffered somewhat from the vagaries of collective memory.
In this new article about our “forgotten” painters, we would like to tell you about another great figurative painter whose work extends from the last part of the nineteenth century to the Second World War, John A. Hammond, RCA. (1843-1939)
Born in Montreal to a family of British origin, John Hammond, following in his father’s footsteps, became a marble cutter at the age of nine. Adventurous by nature, he joined the local militia in anticipation of an attack by the Fenians, Irish nationalists who attacked the British strongholds to put pressure on the English who occupy Ireland.
From the 1860s, this same spirit of adventure brought him to New Zealand with his brother as a gold prospector! He spent three years there before returning to Montreal in 1870 where, under William Nottman, he became a photographer. It’s in this capacity that he joins the Geological Survey of Canada, working on the path that will trace the Canadian Pacific railway through Western Canada.
A great admirer of the Barbizon School and of the Dutch painters, Hammond becomes a member of the Royal Academy of Arts in Canada. Quickly, he gets a good reputation as a landscape artist and painter of marine scenes.
He painted in France and Holland in the 1880s, where he worked alongside Jean-François Millet. He exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1886 where he won two awards and also exhibited at the Royal Academy of London and the prestigious National Academy of Design in New York.
He becomes a friend of the businessman and collector William Van Horne who bought some of his works. Van Horne is the president of the Canadian Pacific Railway and he then commissions Hammond to produce paintings and murals showing some of the places served by CP.
He also travels to Asia by boat where he observes Japanese and Chinese art but these will have only a minor influence on the work of the painter.
In 1893 Hammond is appointed head of the Department of Fine Arts at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, and was a director of the Owens Museum of Fine Arts at the university. He settled in this city and spent the rest of his life and his career making the region his main source of inspiration.
John Hammond died in 1939 at the age of 96. He designed the design of Mount Allison University’s “Hammond Gate” and it bears his name. His home in Sackville was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1990. Examples of his work can be found today in many collections across Canada and around the world..
John Hammond par/by Edmond Dyonnet
Not very well known in Quebec in the years following his death, his works were only found within a few collections and museums.
It was in the late 1980s that his heirs decided to help him regain his rightful place in the history of art in Canada. To this end, they contacted Denis Beauchamp who was already a well-known artist agent across Canada.
Beauchamp, an adventurous soul like Hammond, decided to take up the challenge and take charge of the posthumous career of the old master.
Soon, Hammond’s work would return to take a well-deserved place in several prestigious galleries across Canada. Hammond then found a place of choice in the art market and his rating rose proportionally. Many collectors discovered a rich and accomplished work, and the many paintings of Master’s estate were cautiously marketed in the next decade.
In the early 2000s, Hammond was one of the sure values of art in Canada and collectors trusted they were making a good choice by acquiring works of the painter whose career had regained all the strength it had known nearly a century earlier!
Beginning in the late 2000s, Hammond, like many other painters, saw his market slow down considerably in the shadow of the major recession that occurred in 2008-2009. Gallerists in Canada – and elsewhere – were finding it harder to convince a cautious public to invest in the arts and the price of Hammond’s works sometimes made it less accessible.
This is still the prevailing situation today, which explains some stagnation in Hammond’s gallery sales at the time of writing. That being said, so-called “secondary” sales – from private citizen to private citizen – can be quite interesting.
Add to this the unpredictable fluctuations of the art market and the purchase of a lower priced work today could translate into a profit in a few years.
Of course, as we all know, the best reason for acquiring a work of art is at all times the pleasure of owning a small piece of beauty, and that should be enough for anyone who chooses to adorn their walls with a painting by one of the Great Masters of Canadian Art.
S.M.Pearson, le Balcon d’Art, April 2019