Canadian painter Homer Watson (1855–1936) was intrigued by spiritualism throughout his life and Moonlit Stream, with its evocative darkness and unnatural colours, may be interpreted as supporting these ideas. Although his writings on the subject are vague, he seems to have adhered to a pantheistic approach that sought out transcendent meaning in natural phenomena. “All nature up to the horizon uttered the sombre chord that would be in unison with the refrain of the lost and the caverns of the forest vibrated in their mystic depth,” he reminisced in an undated description of experiencing a landscape at night. “[Everything] seemed connected together by invisible ties and the limits of earth seemed to mount in the air and be linked with the spirits of other worlds.”


Homer Watson, Moonlit Stream, 1933
Homer Watson, Moonlit Stream, 1933
Oil on canvas, 31.8 x 41.9 cm, Library and Archives Canada, on loan to Laurier House, Ottawa

The painting’s small size was due principally to the several health crises that had hampered the seventy-eight-year-old Watson’s ability to work on a larger scale. Although the thickness with which it was painted, the corresponding loss of naturalistic detail, the darkness of the landscape, and the startling colours in the sky and river were not innovations at this point in Watson’s career, they are brought together here with a new degree of intensity. Moonlit Stream thus exists as a highly personal end-of-career statement by an artist who had been disconnected for some fifteen years from developments elsewhere in Canadian art.


This Spotlight is excerpted from Homer Watson: Life & Work by Brian Foss.

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