Page 69c2 Great Canadian Heritage Discoveries
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More important Canadian antique memorabilia the Museum has preserved.

The back of a genuine oil is as important as the front.

Stretcher - Note that the canvas is wrapped - stretched - around a wooden frame, called a stretcher, which is tensioned with wooden wedges in the corners. This is done by the artist to stabilize his work and to prepare it for nailing into a frame.

Canvas - The canvas back, white to begin with, should darken with age and show scuff marks, etc. consistent with having been shuffled around for 100 years or so.

Unmarked white canvas should be an alarm that you are looking at a Hong Kong repro or fake.

The canvas from the front, wrapped around the stretcher is soiled and splotched with dirt and paint, from being banged up against walls in storage closets or garage walls. A good sign of age.

Nails - The edges are nailed down, irregularly, in one corner - a good sign of JD in a hurry. His handiwork is on the other side. Rusty nails or nail heads are a good sign of genuine age and originality.

Note how the paint from the front carries over on to the back. JD didn't know exactly where his frame would be so he painted in more ground than he needed, which shows, now, on the back.

Wire - The rusty wire is another sign of age.

Scribbles - Often there is old writing on the canvas done by the artist, or an heir. Here someone has over painted an inscription with which JD might have designated the client, or the location.

Did someone do it to prevent people from tracing it to a family member, who has stolen it from an aging mother's wall, and sent it to auction.

Or from an organization JD had painted it for...

Individuals and families are frequently ashamed to send family possessions to auction houses for money, and take all steps possible so that no one can find out who is selling off the family's heirlooms

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

When important art was to be done, by the upper classes, they commissioned an oil portrait.

Here is one of the most fabulous early Canadian oils you will ever see, a superb portrait of Dr. Christopher Widmer (1779-1857), executed c 1850 by C. Loeffler in Toronto, Canada West (today's Ontario.)

Dr. Widmer had been a Staff cavalry surgeon in the British Army during the Peninsular War against Napoleon.

Like countless British soldiers, after the Napoleonic Wars came to an end, he came to Canada and settled in York (today's Toronto.)

He is responsible for helping develop early standards of medicine in pioneer Ontario. Widmer St., running north of King St., west of John St., is named after him.

Note the amazing brush detail of his eye.

The oil is on canvas but laid down on very thick and heavy board, similar to Academy board, made up of layers of paper glued together.

Oil Portrait, Dr. Christopher Widmer (1779-1857) - C. Loffler, c 1850
Orig. oil - Image Size - 35 x 46 cm
Found - Toronto, ON
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Who can conjure up a more glorious reverie of a Canadian boyhood experience, than JD Kelly has wonderfully captured here, in a fabulous oil.

Go to JD Kelly Scouts

Oil has long been the leading medium for most artists to use when creating their master works.

Many artists mock up small panels of artist's board in the field - they fit in a portable painter's box - and then return to the studio and blow up the image on a larger canvas.

So like most watercolours - which are mostly smaller panels - artists's board images in oil were also on site. The actual panel and its paints saw the very image the artist was actually painting. Hey, they were there... They experienced the train trip there, the bumpy hike over hill and dale; they overheard the laughter and chit-chat at the site, and all the way home.

No such "historic site involvement" dimension to the big oils. The only romantic or heritage site they see is the grubby interior of the artist's studio.

Big oils are usually done on canvas, many intermediate sizes on artist's board, some smaller oils on wood panels.

The eye of the Scout eating the apple magnified to show swirls of JD's brush - not a grid of dots, as you will find in repros.

Moonlight Magic - JD Kelly, c 1926
Orig. oil on canvas - Image Size - 61 x 71 cm
Found - Toronto, ON

Another eye magnified to show what you should see with a loupe, to see if you have an original oil or merely a repro.

It is the unique genius of a skilled artist that knows how to translate seemingly sloppy dashes of paint into a living breathing human being when one steps back.

And there was none better than Great Canadian Artist JD Kelly, who gave countless generations of Canadians their enduring image of what the people, places, and events of Canada means to them.



Note the irregular swirls of oil on background and hat.

Many faux oils - artificially faked on canvas, with seeming brush strokes - do not show irregular starts and stops, brush stops at subject edges, or vertical, oblique, and horizontal brush strokes all mixed up in all sorts of angles.

Faked oils have a totally uniform pattern of so-called brush strokes across the entire surface.

Note how, above the right ear, you can make out the very hair strokes of JD's brush. In other areas only gobs of oil are seen.

Original Art (Oil) - Originals & Repros 2

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Academy Board - Artists have used Academy Board, as an alternative to unwieldy canvas, since it was invented, about 1850, especially for painting with oils in the field. It is a hard board made by gluing multiple sheets of paper together, and covering the surface with a gesso ground to accept oil paint.

Lionel's board is very old, dating from 1869 and shows the label, some 140 years old. Old paintings often also show labels from auctions where they were sold, or art gallerys that owned or displayed them. These can be good provenance that it is genuine and passed through the hands of art experts. Do not remove them.

The edge is scuffed from being banged about in the slots in the artist's paint box, and in storage places. But it doesn't matter because the edge is matted out when framed for display.

Lionel's Academy Board, which, to get to him in Fort Garry from Toronto, traveled by train, through the United States, to St. Paul, Minnesota, and then by steamer down the Red River.




A genuine oil surface should have irregular humps and dabs of paint, that stand out in relief from the background, like the white drifts of snow, and the brown patches of grass. They were added after the background and so should rise above the surface.

Tilting - Tilt the canvas to the light. There should be different patches of sheen for the dogs, the grass, the snow, because they are painted separately and so should reflect light differently.

Beware, later retouched surfaces, to repair damaged paint can also show this patchiness.

If there is one single, unbroken sheen across the surface, you may not have an original art work. Or one which someone has resurfaced.

When you examine an oil with a loupe you should be able to see the individual brush marks that were used to paint the different areas of the dog.

Cleaning an original oil should only be done by a competent professional whose work you have seen.

Many antique oils have been ruined by over cleaning, which has robbed the painting of its patina which gives it value as a historic work of art. Who wants it if it looks brand new, like you bought it from IKEA last week?

And some people can't tell the difference... Are you one who has subjected your antique painting, or piece of antique furniture, to an overzealous cleaner?

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

A fabulous oil painting on academy board, of what downtown Winnipeg looked like, 140 years ago.

These small panels allowed the artist to go into the field to gather his images. 14 year old Lionel Stephenson - usually signing himself as LMS in dark red - actually sat in this spot and painted the eastern side of Fort Garry, at that time a major fur trade post for the Hudson's Bay Company.

In 1869, when Lionel painted this oil, Canada was two years old, and the HBC had just signed over all its fur trading territories in western Canada to the Government of Canada.

Within months Fort Garry became a centre of resistance by Métis people, under the leadership of Louis Riel, and Canada sent troops west under Colonel Wolseley, to quell the disturbance, which fizzled out, without bloodshed.

And Lionel became prosperous for a time because he sold souvenir paintings like this to many soldiers, who carried them back to Ontario. So as well as being great Canadian heritage art they are also historic memorabilia of a military campaign and early Canadian souvenir ware to boot.

Oil, Fort Garry, 1869 - Lionel Macdonald Stephenson
Orig. oil on board - Size - 30 x 46 cm
Found - Palgrave, ON
Signed LMS Ft Garry 1869

One of the reasons people like original oils is that there is only one in existence, a one-of-a-kind, and no one else has one - so there...

It's one upmanship, especially among the wealthy, with high-priced items, among a crowd where the ticker price is far more important than the painting itself. A crowd where the size of your bank account gives you status, and you have to flag it constantly with outrageous purchases. Especially by flaunting overpriced cars, overspending wives and mistresses, oh, and did we mention, vastly overpriced art?

But Lionel is a good example why original art is sometimes duplicated by the original artist, because the demand is there.

His dupes are not dupes, nor original prints, at all, but each one is an original work of art done in oil from scratch on another piece of Academy Board, in 1869.

Go to Lionel's Paintings

Soldiers who came west saw one of his paintings and all seemed to want one to take back as a souvenir of the Wild West. Lionel painted furiously. There was no way to make dupes. So he had to start another original work of art. But it left no time for originality.

Lionel is hardly alone. Some of Canada's top painters repainted highly valuable paintings because clients demanded it. They are all valuable as original oils. They are not devalued at all because a similar one is both in the Canadian Archives and another in the National Gallery of Canada. A case in point are the Poundmaker portraits by Edmund Morris.

Go to Edmund Morris' Poundmaker

Oilettes were originally introduced on postcards by British postcard manufacture Raphael Tuck, in 1903, to look like oil paintings. Tuck specialized in works of art on postcards.




Others took the technique to bigger formats, like this one of Laurier dating to about 1908. It was patented by Rolph and Clark, a Lithography firm in Toronto.

Many people, including auctioneers - no surprise there - hype oilettes as "genuine oils," when they're not even original prints, but reproductions.

Check the surface - you don't even need a loupe - and see how the supposed brushwork, is actually a superimposed uniform grid pattern across the whole canvas.

You can see the uniformly vertical grid lines totally even-spaced, complete with some knobbly bits every so often, to replicate supposed oil. They are physically rough and rise above the surface in relief.

Go to Laurier

They're all fake. This was a machine printed canvas, not a hand-painted oil, or an original print. Note the uniform vertical grid lines posing as faux brush strokes.


The close up of the oilette's hand above and right shows regular grid lines crossing paint boundaries. Irregular brush strokes applying different paints don't do that on real oils as shown on Kelly's Scout hat above.

The back of the oilette is bewitchingly similar to that of a real oil, complete with canvas, stretcher mounting, and wedges, but it's a repro, run off by the hundreds if not more.

So originally it was not anywhere near as valuable as an original oil.

But today very few survive. They are rare. Ones in mint condition, like this one, you can no longer find. So rarity after 100 years, and good condition, makes this a valuable piece of Canadian heritage memorabilia.

It also reminds us of a time when Canadians respected their Prime Ministers enough to pay for a portrait to hang in the parlour.

It would be nothing short of ludicrous, today, to even ask anyone if they had a picture of Prime Minister Mulroney or Harper hanging in their houses.

Today's politicians are totally degraded because the electorate is often smarter and better informed than their political leaders profess to be.

Politicians pursue too many private and base agendas, and paper them over with a patina of respectability, or spin.

They are as akin to Laurier as an oilette is to an oil.

A total fake, all the way...

Then again...

Go to Laurier's Mistress
Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996-1999-2005
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

A fabulous discovery is this "oilette" - a faux oil - of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Canada's Prime Minister from 1896 -1911, and also its most highly regarded. This one is in rare mint condition.

It is a fake oil, printed on canvas to look like real oil on canvas, which it is not.

Oilette, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, c 1908
Orig. oilette - Image Size - 41 x 51 cm
Found - Milton, ON