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of things includes everything one sees and senses.
Geese in a storm, a landfall after a
long period at sea, horses in a fence corner, the first glimpse of
the ‘shining mountains’ across the plain, the eroded bank
a stream winding through a pasture. With me the keenest sense of all has been in wildlife . . . .”
— Francis Lee Jaques, Artist of the Wilderness World
30. Francis Lee Jaques. “Deer in Snowy Landscape,” 1950s. Pen and ink on scratchboard. Signed in l. l.: F. L. Jaques. Image: 7 3/4 x 11 3/4". Frame size: 14 1/4 x 18 1/4". Drawing created as Christmas card commission for Haynsworth Jewelry, Somerville, New Jersey; includes greeting card positive and mockup attached to verso. Very faint scattered spotting in l. r. side. Overall, excellent. Framed in gold molding.
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This superb black-and-white study of a solitary whitetail buck in winter provides a fine summary of the immense talents of Francis Lee Jaques (1887–1969), the premier American wildlife artist of the early twentieth century. Jaques depicts the buck pausing by a clump of bare trees, his head turned slightly toward a sound piercing the snowy stillness of early morning. The artist’s skill at capturing the body and movement of the animal in such a lifelike way is all the more impressive for its rendering on scratchboard, a challenging medium that Jaques favored for his book illustrations. The technique consists of using a knife or an etching tool to scrape white strokes out of an area that is first rendered in black ink.
“Lee’s scratchboard drawings in black and white started a revival of that technique, which for a time had been almost forgotten,” his wife, Florence, has written. “His special stroke technique, even in very bold black-and-white effects, created a feeling of texture. . . . Lee left areas blank because of his liking for space, which suggested the freedom that he always wanted to convey. . . . Space is dominant in his work. He loved to put a single bird in a great stretch of sky or a single mammal on an expanse of earth. Vastness was a glory to him. He was absorbed in it, so that in all his work, even in a small drawing, the object seems surrounded by airy spaciousness.”
Space is certainly a dominant element of the present drawing. The stag stands at the crest of a hill that in the mind’s eye marks the plunge downward into and across a large field of snow. The tree branches above the animal stretch into that white distance, emphasizing vastness that lies over the crest, just out of sight. The stag’s form, indicated by precisely etched parallel strokes of white, stands remarkably solid and naturalistic against the large areas of blank space. “He did not exaggerate the bulk of large animals,” Florence wrote. “Rather he allowed the play of light to give power to their form.” Jaques did not focus on the fine details of fur and feathers, regarding them as largely meaningless. Instead he defined the essence of an animal by amplifying its intrinsic forms. Ultimately, Roger Tory Peterson notes about Jaques’s scratchboard drawings, “Silhouette, pattern, and texture were carefully integrated to produce little masterpieces,” and the present work is no exception.
Jaques was largely self-taught. Born in Illinois in 1887, he grew up in Elmo, Kansas, where he developed an early interest in the beauty of nature and wildlife. He accompanied his father, an avid outdoorsman and nature writer, on hunting trips and often drew the birds that his father shot. As a young teenager, he painted watercolors of birds in their natural environment and illustrated some of his father’s articles for Forest and Stream and Field and Stream. In 1903, Jaques’s family moved to Minnesota, where he fell in love with the lakes of the Boundary Waters region, exploring them by canoe and drawing and painting the scenes he observed. During his young adulthood, he tried his hand at several occupations—lumberjack, electrician, railroad fireman, and taxidermist, the latter of which provided him with first-hand knowledge of animal anatomy.
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Drafted into World War I in 1917, Jaques went to France. After the war he returned to Minnesota and during the early 1920s secured a position as an illustrator. In 1924, he sent a painting of a black duck to the chief curator of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, who was so impressed that he hired Jaques as a staff artist. Jaques began traveling the world on museum expeditions in order to sketch, paint, and research landscapes for the museum’s habitat dioramas. During his prolific career, he painted about 50 diorama backgrounds, today considered by scholars to be among the finest ever created. He also completed oil paintings and studies and illustrated more than 40 books, some co-authored with Florence.
In 1953, Jaques and his wife moved from New York to North Oaks, Minnesota, where they spent the rest of their lives. The present work likely dates to a period before the move, as it was commissioned by a jewelry store in Somerville, New Jersey, located west of New York City. A positive print of the illustration and a mockup of the Christmas greeting card accompany the drawing.
Ref.: Florence Page Jaques, Francis Lee Jaques: Artist of the Wilderness World (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1973), pp. xx, 6, 245–246.