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Peter Clapham Sheppard His Life and Work

By Tom Smart

Foreword by Louis Gagliardi

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The Globe and Mail - Nov 03 2018

Quill and Quire - Nov. 2018 Issue

Canada’s History - Dec. 2018 - Jan. 2019.

CanadianArt.ca - Dec. 03 2018

Peter Clapham Sheppard and the Group of Seven

His paintings are in the collections of Canada’s most respected galleries, but Peter Clapham Sheppard’s name remains unknown to most Canadians

Peter Clapham Sheppard, The Engine Home , c. 1919

Peter Clapham Sheppard,The Engine Home, c. 1919

His paintings are in the collections of Canada’s most respected galleries, but Peter Clapham Sheppard’s name remains unknown to most Canadians. A figurative artist and contemporary of the Group of Seven, Sheppard’s legacy as one of Canada’s finest 20th century painters has long been overlooked and overshadowed.

With the recent record-setting sale of a Sheppard painting and a new book, Peter Clapham Sheppard: His Life and Work, the artist’s legacy as one of Canada’s forgotten Masters is finally being recognized.

The following is an excerpt from Peter Clapham Sheppard: His Life and Work, available wherever art books are sold.

Peter Clapham Sheppard and the Group of Seven

Among the many circumstances that give a context for Sheppard’s life, the most important for him and for his cohort of artists working in Toronto particularly was the Group of Seven. The artists who formed and were members of this collective cast a very long shadow over the lives and art of their contemporaries in ways that were certainly not appreciated at the time of their emergence. An unknown consequence of their ascent and radiance in the cultural firmament of post–World War I Toronto is that, over the succeeding decades and into the new millennium, they made many of their contemporaries vanish from public consciousness. This was Sheppard’s unfortunate fate. Although he continued to paint in a style and mode that rivalled some of his peers’ in the group, for a complex set of reasons his light dimmed next to theirs, and his expressive skills and innovations were diminished and underappreciated.

Why did this occur? On the one hand it might well have been the result of being in or out of a club. A select group might have the patina of being open and democratic, but the truth is that a group by definition is exclusionary. Insiders were a phalanx that valued privileged inclusion, but were protective of their corporate status. You were let in to the company. You did not join it. The Group of Seven modelled itself as a band of like-minded individuals whose aims were to define a national school of art, and this academy was based almost exclusively on interpreting the landscape, urban and wilderness.

The institutional heft that the group received contributed to their ubiquitous presence in the cultural landscape of the third decade of the 20th century, and it is against this backdrop that Sheppard plied his trade. In retrospect, a key reason Sheppard was on the outside looking in at the group’s efforts is that his artistic intentions did not align with theirs. He did not seek out or describe nationalistic symbols or utopias in the northern landscape. His was a very different source of inspiration, articulated in a form of urban pastoral and in scenes of economic growth embodied in civil engineering projects and in the rail yards. Rather than identifying with the Group of Seven, Sheppard saw his art as better aligned with the two groups of contemporary American painters, the Eight and the Ashcan School . . .

Sheppard was primarily a figurative artist. While landscape did feature in his paintings of the late 1910s, it was treated more as a convenient means for developing painterly idioms independent of subject matter — as if the landscape merely served as a visual anchor for his forays into expressive experiments with colour. His wide brushstroke, his subtle use of close colour harmonies and complements betray an artist pushing convention and adapting the landscape subject, making it submit to the requirement of being a visual touchstone that supported an impulse to explore the purely expressive properties of colour.

YorkRegion.com - Nov. 16 2018

50 years after his death, a story of a Canadian artist, Peter Sheppard, is set to change Canada’s art history

Vaughan curator wants Peter Sheppard to be part of Canada’s art history

Louis Gagliardi of Vaughan is seen holding the newly published book detailing the life and work of Peter Clapham Sheppard (1879-1965). In the background, Sheppard’s "forgotten” paintings can be seen. - Steve Somerville/Metroland

Louis Gagliardi of Vaughan is seen holding the newly published book detailing the life and work of Peter Clapham Sheppard (1879-1965). In the background, Sheppard’s "forgotten” paintings can be seen. - Steve Somerville/Metroland

Nov 16, 2018 by Dina Al-Shibeeb  Vaughan Citizen

Louis Gagliardi of Vaughan is seen holding the newly published book detailing the life and work of Peter Clapham Sheppard (1879-1965). In the background, Sheppard’s "forgotten” paintings can be seen. - Steve Somerville/Metroland

In 1965, Peter Clapham Sheppard, a “master draughtsman, lithographer, and painter,” from Toronto died at the age of 86. Despite his gleaming talent, “he went to his grave, poor and forgotten.”

“Unlike his more famous contemporaries who turned to the mystic northern wilderness, remote and uninhabited, Sheppard’s modernist approach to his urban experience is always tenanted by humanity, often the working class,” says Louis Gagliardi, a retired educator from Vaughan endeavouring to bring renewed attention to this "great artist."

Dubbed as “radical” in his early career, Sheppard's inspiration extended beyond that of his Group of Seven contemporaries; instead, he looked to the New York painters of urban and industrial scenes.

But the stars are changing for Sheppard, well more than 50 years after his death, because of Gagliardi, a recently retired elementary school, who became obsessed with Sheppard’s “forgotten story.”

The 63-year-old art connoisseur, discovered the initial thread about Sheppard when he purchased a small oil sketch seen from a distance in 1987. “It just spoke to me as the saying goes."

But somehow, the painting led Gagliardi to the “Salvation Army Lodge and Bernice Fenwick Martin.”

Martin, Sheppard’s “last friend and support,” was the beneficiary of the late artist’s only remaining asset: his lifetime of work. 

In 1987, Martin’s life had gone “from riches to rags,” as she herself used to say.

“I began to regularly visit Bernice at the Salvation Army and soon the humanity of her story and condition cemented a friendship despite the 50 years that separated us in age,” he said.

Ever since the encounter, Gagliardi, who studied art history and criticism at the University of Western Ontario, has made it his personal quest to contribute Sheppard’s verse to the history of early 20th-century painting in Toronto.

“My 30-year curatorship of Sheppard’s art and his name runs parallel to my teaching career," Gagliardi said. “At the time these works were being salvaged, many of them had already suffered the distress of dirt, foul waters, and even bug infestations.”

But after all these years of work and more than 19 years after Martin’s death, Gagliardi is coming much closer to his goal: The inclusion of the “erased” Sheppard in Canada’s art history.

Gagliardi, a widower with two children, collaborated with Tom Smart, an award-winning author on Canadian artists and currently the executive director and CEO of the prestigious Beaverbrook Art Gallery, to publish Peter Clapham Sheppard, His Life and Work.

The book’s official launch was on Friday, Nov. 2 at the Arts and Letters Club in Toronto.

“Sheppard is rich in another kind of history, that’s the history of the cities at the dawn of the 20th century,” Gagliardi said. “For example, his masterwork, which is on the cover of the book, depicts the Bloor Street Viaduct, a major landmark in the city built around 1915 to 1918."

The painting — The Bridge Builders, Construction, Bloor Street Viaduct — shows a group of labourers hard at work. It gives a window into Canada’s history and the changes happening at the time, he says.

“Tom Smart describes this work as a national monument. ... Why? It’s a window into the past,” Gagliardi added.

“While he painted (the piece) there's a war going on across the Atlantic and the Canadians have duly sacrificed in that war and they'll come out with a new sense of pride and national identity. ... What you see in that painting is the optimism, the hope that this century, the 20th Century, as (Wilfrid) Laurier, who was the prime minister at the time, said is the century that belongs to Canada."

Asked about the number of paintings he has of Sheppard, Gagliardi said he doesn't want to disclose that, nor their expected value, saying the "monetary value" is "irrelevant" at this point.

International exhibitions but no recognition

The “irony” is that Sheppard’s work in the formative decades of the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s was exhibited in “all the important shows along with all the famous works that we now know by the Group of Seven. He stood on equal ground with those artists and he showed in all those important exhibitions. But after they exhibited, (Sheppard's paintings) returned quietly to his studio,” lamented Gagliardi.

In 1925, Sheppard’s impressionist painting — Early Snow, Montreal — was shown in 1925 at the British Empire Exhibition held in Wembley, England, as well as in Paris in 1927, together with 215 Canadian works in a show organized by the Royal Canadian Academy.

“That was the first time Canadian art appeared internationally,” said Gagliardi.

“The dilemma is that this important historical collection has remained invisible, unknown, for the greater part of the century and cries out to be seen and properly exhibited,” he added.

To make that happen, Gagliardi has just engaged a doctoral student in art history to be the assistant curator of the collection.

“Her name is Natalie Hume, and I am excited about the research she is prepared to conduct  along with pursuing exhibition possibilities,” he said in hopes Canadians will rethink this period in art history.

“My purpose is not just to reveal Sheppard’s forgotten art but to make a clarion call for all the other women and men who were unfairly written out of our art history.  It is up to the next generation of Canadian art historians and I bid them Godspeed.”


Editor’s note: A correction was made to this story on Nov. 9, 2018. Gagliardi is 63 and in 1987 he purchased a small oil sketch belonging to another artist. York Region Media regrets the error.

by Dina Al-Shibeeb

The Star - Jan. 07 2019

Paintings by the Group of Seven, of which Steve Martin is a fan, attract many buyers at art auctions. (Keith Beaty / Toronto Star file photo)

Paintings by the Group of Seven, of which Steve Martin is a fan, attract many buyers at art auctions. (Keith Beaty / Toronto Star file photo)

Is there a fortune in your attic?

I enjoy fine art – my grandfather was a landscape painter and his oil canvases hang on the walls of my house.

But I did not inherit his talent and have no expertise in the field, beyond knowing what I like and don’t like.

As a result, I have never invested in art and don’t pretend to know how to value a painting or a sculpture. I’m aware that some people have struck it rich with works they found in a corner of the attic (I watch “Antiques Roadshow” on occasion). But I’m not one of them.

In fact, I had never been to an art auction until recently. I’d seen them portrayed in movies (North by Northwest, The First Wives Club, etc.) but never actually attended one.

That changed when I was invited to an auction of Canadian fine art at Waddington’s in Toronto. The scene was almost exactly as I’d seen it on film – potential buyers equipped with numbered bidding paddles sipping on free coffee, a bank of desks where employees sat ready to accept phone bids from out-of-town buyers and a nattily-dressed auctioneer who stood behind a lectern on a raised dais where he could view the entire room and spot any bids.

The catalogue listed 138 items to be sold. I thought it was going to take all night. Nowhere near that! Thousands of dollars changed so quickly it was hard to keep up. Within three hours, 111 of the works had been sold for a total value of about $2.5 million.

Several paintings by Group of Seven artists went in minutes for what I thought to be bargain prices of under $20,000. Others by artists I was not familiar with were knocked down what seemed to be remarkably high levels.

For example, an oil by Peter Clapham Sheppard titled Elizabeth Street Toronto, which had been valued at between $40,000 and $60,000, went for an eye-popping $204,000 after some spirited bidding between two collectors in the room and a telephone buyer.

I had never heard of Sheppard, who did most of his work in the 1920s and 1930s, when he was overshadowed by the Group of Seven. He died in 1965, never having achieved wide recognition in his lifetime. It was only in recent years that collectors discovered him, and his reputation was enhanced by a book written by art historian Tom Smart titled Peter Clapham Sheppard: His Life and Work.

Another revelation was a painting by contemporary artist Ivan Kenneth Eyre titled Asessippi. It’s a landscape painted from memory of a river valley on the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border that was appraised at between $60,000 and $80,000. It sold for more than double the higher figure, at $192,000.

Both those paintings brought in more than the highest priced Group of Seven offering, an oil on panel work by Lawren Harris titled Watertower, Circa 1919. It went for $144,000, around the midpoint of its appraised value.

After reading this, you may want to take a closer look at what’s hanging on your walls or go rummaging through the attic or basement to see if there’s a small fortune hiding in your home. But what should you look for?

I spoke by phone with Stephen Ranger, Waddington’s vice-president fine arts. He said that most paintings don’t have commercial value, but about five per cent might be worth some money.

If you find something you think might fall into that group, look for a signature and, even better, a date. It’s usually found in the lower right-hand corner or on the back. “In fact, the back may reveal a lot about the painting and its history,” said Mr. Ranger. Besides a signature or date there may be gallery labels or other clues about previous owners and where it came from (its “provenance”).

Don’t remove a painting from its frame. It may be grimy and dusty, but an original frame may enhance the value.

Take a picture and send it to Waddington’s or some other reputable auction house for an evaluation (usually free). If you have several pieces, a representative of the company may arrange a visit to evaluate the whole collection.

Sellers pay the auction house a commission of 20 per cent on works that sell for under $10,000. The rate drops to as low as three to four per cent on more expensive items. Buyers pay a 20 per cent commission.

And what if you want to start collecting art yourself, in hopes of some windfall profits in future years? Mr. Ranger says to do some extensive research, attend auctions to see which artists are in demand and to buy the best works you can afford.

As for my grandfather’s paintings, they’re going to stay where they are. Even if they were worth thousands (they’re not), I wouldn’t part with them. They are all that’s left of him, and that makes them priceless!

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