Spectral Passages

The history of Arctic exploration is full of cul de sacs, of narrow channels in ice fields, of straits that turn out to be bays, and of illusions that appeared to be opportunities. Some adventurers hesitated and missed breakthroughs of discovery. Others rushed in and found their retreats cut off by enclosing pack ice that ground their ships to flinders. Islands also appeared where none existed: cloudbanks and enormous ice fields masqueraded as solid ground. People saw things that were not there—or that we insist could never have been there.

A.Y. Jackson’s “unknown” landscape

I visited McMaster University's Museum of Fine Arts in February 2020, to view several early (pre World War I) works by A.Y. Jackson. One of them, Girl in the Middy, an oil sketch of Rosa Breithaupt, herself painting by the water's edge, contained a bonus painting on the obverse side: a landscape catalogued as "unknown" in subject matter. Jackson's fellow member of the Group of Seven, A.J. Casson, actually wrote (in ink!) on it: "The sketch on the reverse side could possibly be an early AY Jackson." That clearly seems to be the case. But what does it depict?

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