Quebec - James B. Hance
( Originally Published 1907 )
IN these days when the rapprochement between Great Britain and her colonies has become a subject of intense pride to all of us, the visit of Mr. J. B. Hance, the well-known artist of Quebec, is a matter for more than usual and more than merely artistic interest. Mr. Hance is an Englishman born and bred; but since he settled in "The Dominion" he has made the portrayal of its grand and beautiful scenery peculiarly his own. His headquarters are in Quebec, and, during the summer months, at Cap Rouge—a country village some ten or twelve miles out of the city—where he and his charming wife lead an ideal life, and where he possesses a second studio. Mr. Hance's exhibitions are justly celebrated, not only for the beauty of the pictures there on view, but for the delightful informality and sense of artistic atmosphere of their arrangement. This English-Canadian painter, who appreciates his adopted country so enthusiastically, and who reproduces her beauties with such power and skill, lately returned home for a couple of months' rest and holiday, and he took with him a very beautiful picture which possesses a particular interest of its own. It is a large oil painting of a village near Quebec, Sillery by name, the birthplace of the Hon. Charles Fitzpatrick, Chief Justice of Canada ; and it was specially painted as a gift from him to the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Russell of Killowen. The photograph here presented in no way does justice to the painting, since photography cannot reproduce colour, neither can it give an idea of the skill with which the artist has preserved a sense of extreme cold, while yet his canvas glows with the almost angry hues of a gorgeous sunset. Just over Sillery Church spire the whole sky is ablaze with tawny orange and flame colour, reduced to tenderest tones of rose-pink upon the piled-up masses of snow which occupy the foreground; while here and there a faint flush catches even the distant housetops across the river. The rendering of the ice-bound river itself is exquisite. No re-production can give an idea of the smoothness and wonderful clear green tints with which both ice and water are represented, and brought actually within one's sight and comprehension.
Thus writes an eminent critic in one of the leading English papers. A copy of this picture forms one of the illustrations of this book.
I have come to look forward to the Quebec fall exhibitions of Mr. J. B. Hance's work with as much pleasurable emotion as I welcome the return of spring after a drear winter, for I am always assured of a genuine treat. This year's exhibition fully sustains Mr. Hance's reputation as an able technician, a skilful colorist, and an artist possessed of that still rarer quality—a poetical temperament—as evidenced in all his work. Mr. Hance is never a stylist, for into each subject which he treats is breathed the emotion which inspired it. A poem of the palette and brush would not be an inapt term to apply to any one of his pictures whether in oil or water color. His strength is in this very quality of truth and sweetness to an ideal of what constitutes sentiment and feeling in art in contra-distinction to the sordidness of the schools of realism and impressionism. Sometimes Mr. Hance comes near to being very great, as in two canvases in the present collection, which, though widely different in subject, have each been treated in so masterly a way as to rank them very high as works of art. The first, "A winter sunset from Dufferin Terrace," has for its foreground the irregular roof lines of the Lower Town in the cold gray light of late afternoon in March. The snow-covere I floating masses of ice in the St. Lawrence are suffused with the rose tint from the setting sun, the pools of water between the floating floes in robin's egg green and blue, while the clustering houses on the Levis height with their bright red roofs lend the note of color that give relief to the long upland on the Island of Orleans in the deep flush of rosy snow. There is decided cleverness in the color treatment of this picture, and the composition is most admirable. Some there are, undoubtedly, who will fail to understand the color scheme of this picture, but to them I would say : Go to the Terrace some bright March afternoon just at sunset, and my word for it you will discover for yourselves how wonderfully Mr. Hance has caught the mood of that few moments.
The other canvas, to which I have referred as almost great, and certainly very fine, is "A Sunset from Cap Rouge," an early autumn scene, as the field of ripening grain in the foreground tells us. Over the northern mountains, deep purple in the twilight, there hangs the brilliant after-glow of sunset. In the intervening valleys light mists float upwards. Here again the composition leaves nothing to be desired, while the lights and shadows are very effectively rendered. This picture has inspired several of our poets to set it to words. The Rev. F. G. Scott's lines are as follows:—
"The sun goes down in royal state,
Another, but unknown bard, sent these lines after some stolen glimpse of the painting :
"Over the mountain the glow of the sunset
Feeling and sentiment are at once apparent in this canvas.
"A Showery Day in the Vale of Cheshire" is another important oil. Lights and shadows chase over a wide valley, and in the middle distance a heavy shower is falling. The feeling of atmosphere and distance in this picture is delightful. In "A Winter Sunset from the Parliament Buildings" Mr. Hance treats us to another mid-winter scene that is immensely effective, and particularly well done as to the group of buildings in the foreground. There are a number of other oil§ shown, mostly Canadian subjects. There are sixteen water colors in all shown. In an extended journey down the St. Lawrence this past summer, Mr. Hance has found excellent subject matter from Cacouna down to Little Metis for a series of water colors that are in every sense charming, and in addition to these are several scenes in the Canadian Rockies from previous studies. "Grand Metis Falls,"
"A Glimpse from the St. Louis Road," "Mount Misery from Little Metis," "Castle Mountain from Banff," are in happiest mood, strongly but simply treated, and I should add, sympathetically.