Lost A.Y. Jackson focus of Temiskaming Art Gallery hunt

A northern Ontario art gallery curator is hoping that the community can help turn up a lost painting by Group of Seven artist A.Y. Jackson in time to celebrate the group’s 100th anniversary. 

Painting, long-rumoured to be in the Temiskaming Shores area, depicts a landscape in Haileybury

A.Y Jackson painted several works highlighting the natural beauty of northern Ontario's wilderness. (National Film Board of Canada)

Who doesn't like a good mystery?

A northern Ontario art gallery curator is hoping that the community can help turn up a lost painting by Group of Seven artist A.Y. Jackson in time to celebrate the collective's 100th anniversary. 

Melissa La Porte, curator and executive director of the Temiskaming Art Gallery, says persistent rumours of a lost A.Y. Jackson painting have spurred them to put a call-out for its whereabouts across social media.

The journey started when staff at the Temiskaming Art Gallery began researching Group of Seven paintings inspired by the area– New Liskeard, Cobalt and Temagami for a tour planned in 2020. The tour would highlight sites that the Group of Seven drew inspiration from.

It was her research assistant, La Porte said, who mentioned that her grandmother had seen the Jackson– rumoured to be a depiction of the area near the Haileybury Golf Club– at some point. 
"You know, it kept kind of a naggling at the back of our minds," La Porte said. "We did find other paintings that are clearly of Cobalt. They're labelled and those are kind of wonderful, straightforward clues. But this one of the golf course, it's been sort of a matter of word of mouth."

Melissa La Porte is the executive director and curator of the Temiskaming Art Gallery. (Temiskaming Art Gallery)

Jackson, along with his peers in the Group of Seven, were known for depicting wild, untouched northern Ontario landscapes in the Temiskaming area in the 1930s. Jackson was even involved in the Northern Ontario Arts Associations– a local arts collective– and their annual juried shows.

La Porte said the opportunity of finding an original A.Y. Jackson led her to ask almost everyone who visited the gallery if they knew of its whereabouts. Its existence, she said, is still unsubstantiated.

"Everyone who comes in my office, it's one of my first questions," La Porte said.  'Have you ever heard of this A.Y. Jackson painting?"

"And people say, 'oh, yeah, I heard about that one time. I think maybe I saw it in someone's house at one point.' But no one can give us the smoking gun. No one can say who owns it now, or exactly what it looks like, how big it is. Those kinds of things."

From what she has gathered, La Porte says the painting is likely of the golf course, and looking out over Lake Temiskaming from an elevated point of view. 

It would be a contrast to some of the other Group of Seven work painted in the area, which includes mining headframes in Cobalt, and the urban landscape of small towns like New Liskeard and Temiskaming itself.

The Temiskaming Art Gallery is setting up a tour to see the sites that have inspired famous Canadian painters. (Temiskaming Art Gallery)

How does a painting remain a mystery?

La Porte said it may be impossible to catalogue everything Jackson produced, especially the number of sketches he drew on his trips to the area. 

"The Group of Seven also worked in Toronto. And often when they were in northern Ontario, they were just sort of sketching and they'd take those sketches back to Toronto where they would produce a final work," she said. 

The work would likely have then been shown in a gallery, which would keep detailed notes on the exhibit, sort of a "paper trail," La Porte said. 

"But the things that were sketched here, sometimes they were given away as gifts just to people in the area. As a thank you for showing me around, thank you for letting me stay at your house, or whatever," she said. 

"And they get passed down through families, you know, and there's less of an institutional chain of custody."

Although La Porte said it is too early to speculate on the painting's worth, Heffel, a fine art auction house, recently auctioned a similar-sized oil painting of Jackson's for $603,750.

The first step, of course, is to find the painting.

"It'll be like Christmas morning if we can find the thing," La Porte said. 


Casey Stranges is a reporter based in Sudbury.


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