As curator of Clara’s collection I’m privy to copious details and hundreds of images of her work. And as a result I’ve become pretty “friendly” with the subject matter. But that’s a tendency that should be treated with caution. Familiarity encourages hasty evaluations. Looking at a painting is like proofreading a document. You have to examine it from different angles, front and back. Why? Because what you think you see and what you really see are not always the same.
Take this information and painting sent to me by Linda S:
I have three paintings that I purchased from Mrs. Barker’s shop about 20 years ago. One says the Humber River on the back. It’s oil on canvas measuring approximately 16 x 20”. I believe it’s in the original frame. “Humber River 1937” is written on the back in pencil.
Including Linda’s painting there are now six known paintings of this scene. And at a cursory glance they look very much alike. However depending on which of the six you’re viewing the subject is the Humber River or the grey barn that exists no more: Marx’s Farm.
Two of the six are framed. Linda’s, with its gold frame and textured mat complement the colours of the scene.
Grey Barn by Stream in Autumn
This is a “vignette” of Linda’s painting: a close-up of the grey barn. It’s small, only 8 x 11", painted on cardboard. Artists often created small versions of a scene. These sometimes took no more than 30 minutes. The purpose was to capture the scene before the light and weather changed. This “snapshot” was taken back to the studio and recreated in a bigger, better version. And there could be many versions: all a little different, the artist using artistic license to portray what was seen at the time. Often features of one painting were transposed to a completely different scene: a type of “detail recycling”.
See Winter section,
Little Falls at Lambton in November, Humber River, Toronto
Oil on board 10 x 13"
Titled by artist.
This scene is an expanded version of Linda’s painting. You can see the barn in the background, nestled amongst the trees while the Humber River assumes more prominence. When you compare the white, double frame on this painting with the one on Linda’s version of Marx’s Farm, different details assume importance. That’s what frames do.
A Valuable Archive, “Early Break-up on the Humber River, 1937,
Oil on masonite, 14 x 17”
Titled and dated by artist.
This painting is part of the collection from Nancy and Terry D. The scene is very close to Linda’s, and painted in the same year. But in this version the grey barn is farther away and the viewer experiences more of the topography. Clara’s inclusion of more “sky” lends a feeling of brilliance to this winter day.
Two other versions of the same scene are significant to the collection. These belong to Linda H. of Cobourg, Ontario. Both of them watercolours of Marx’s Farm:
See Collectors Gallery, the two watercolours at the bottom of the page, Humber River with Two Buildings in Background, 5 x 7". Humber River, Grey Building and Tree in Foreground, 5 x 7".
These are the only two watercolour paintings of Clara’s I’ve ever seen. The Humber River and the grey buildings are similar to those in the other four paintings but have a more ethereal look to them. That’s because Clara chose to use watercolour rather than oil paints. Different medium: different feeling.
In sum when examining a familiar subject never assume it’s just like all the rest: there’s always a different addition or detail that is significant and deserves consideration. And that’s why it’s said that “the devil’s in the detail”.