A.J. Casson, RCA, 1898-1992

Summer Morning | A.J. Casson

Summer Morning | A.J. Casson

Sampson-Matthews Ltd. silkscreen, circa 1947-53

Size: 30 x 40 inches.
Price: $1,600


Details: Signed in print lower right. New frame: 34 X 44 inches.
Provenance: Private Collection, Ontario.
Condition: Image Excellent. Staple marks around edges covered by frame.

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Algonquin Provincial Park | A.J. Casson

Algonquin Provincial Park | A.J. Casson

Canadian Pacific Serigraph, circa 1954

Size: 24 x 30 inches.
Price: $1,200 


Details: Signed in print lower right. Original frame: 27.5 X 33.5 inches. Stamp of the Canadian Pacific Public Relations Office on verso.
Note: This serigraph was produced by Sampson-Matthews Ltd. for Canadian Pacific, but is not part of the Sampson-Matthews catalogue of silkscreens. The painting on which this serigraph was based is in the collection of Via Rail Canada.
Provenance: Private Collection, Ontario.
Condition: Very good.

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A.J. Casson became one of Canada’s best known artists,
with a career stretching long after the Group of Seven

Biography

Alfred Joseph Casson was born in Toronto in 1998 and grew up in Guelph and Hamilton.

It was in Hamilton that A.J. Casson became involved in art, studying under John S. Gordon at the Hamilton Technical School.

A.J. Casson became an apprentice at age 16 with the Laidlaw Lithography Co., the first step that led to a long and successful career in commercial art. He worked for an engraving company in Hamilton before his family moved back to Toronto.

In Toronto, A.J. Casson worked as a freelance designer while he attended night classes at the Toronto Central Technical School under artist Alfred Howell. This was followed by private lessons with Harry Britton and studies at the Ontario College of Art with J.W. Beatty.

A.J. Casson joined the Toronto firm of Rous & Mann Ltd., where he was an assistant designer to Franklin Carmichael. Carmichael became a major influencer, role model, friend and sketching companion, and it was through Carmichael that A.J. Casson was introduced to other members of the freshly formed Group of Seven.

In 1921, A.J. Casson took his first extended painting trip with Carmichael to Lake Rosseau in the Ontario Muskoka region and exhibited for the first time with the Ontario Society of Artists.

The National Gallery of Canada purchased in 1923 A.J. Casson’s painting called Clearing, based on a sketch from Lake Rosseau.

A.J. Casson was experimenting with using more colour in his oil paintings, but he was also working in watercolour. He was a founding member, with Carmichael and Frederick Brigden, of the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour, which was launched in 1925.

The next year, A.J. Casson was invited to join the Group of Seven, replacing the departed Franz Johnston.

It was also in 1926 that A.J. Casson moved to the Sampson-Matthews Ltd. printing firm in Toronto, where he would work for decades.

Many of A.J. Casson’s artwork from this time, both his large oil paintings and his watercolours, were of scenes in the Haliburton and Lake Superior regions. He was also drawn to depict small Ontario villages, a subject matter not depicted by other Group of Seven painters. He also painted small florals and still lifes.

In 1936, the National Gallery purchased another major A.J. Casson work, the Anglican Church at Magnetawan (1933).

It was at Sampson-Matthews that the artist became heavily involved in fine art silkscreening. In 1942, A.Y. Jackson successfully pitched to the National Gallery of Canada the idea of making silkscreen reproductions of Canadian paintings as a way to boost Canadian troop morale at home and abroad.

A.J. Casson, as the firm’s art director, had a large hand in executing the silkscreen art project. In 1949, he published an article in Canadian Art magazine called The Possibilities of Silk Screen Reproduction.

From 1942 to 1963, A.J. Casson supervised the production of about 100 different art prints. Six of his own works were produced as silkscreens, including the very popular White Pine.

These silkscreens, now ranging in age from about 55 to 75 years old, are popular with art collectors, drawn to their vibrant colours, simplified lines, durability and their unique place in Canadian history and Canadian art history. It’s not uncommon to find some of these silkscreens signed “Supervised by A.J. Casson” in ink above the artist’s name. It is known that he added some of these signatures later in his life

During the same time, the artist designed the armorial bearings, or coats of arms, for Canada and its, then, 10 provinces and territories. These coats of arms were sold and displayed in government offices, schools and institutions. Smaller silkscreens of flowers and of Canadian wildlife were also produced by the artist.

In his later life, A.J. Casson produced limited edition lithographs of some of his works. These have proliferated further since his death.

Throughout his life, was well regarded by fellow artists and reproductions of his works were popular with the public. He became an associate member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Art in 1926 and a full member in 1939. He earned a number of awards, accolades and honorary degrees for his contributions to Canadian art.

A.J. Casson was a prolific painter, with a large output of works over his long painting life. Sizeable collections include the O.J. Firestone Collection of the Ontario Heritage Foundation, the McMichael Canadian Collection and the Art Gallery of Ontario.

A.J. Casson died in Toronto in 1992 at age 93, survived by his wife and daughter.

Source:  A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, volumes 1-8 by Colin S. MacDonald, and volume 9 (online only), by Anne Newlands and Judith Parker. National Gallery of Canada, Artists in Canada database.