paint on hide, 17 x 38 in (43.2 x 96.5 cm), mounted on linen over board and framed
ESTIMATE: $8,000 — $12,000
PRICE REALIZED: $8,400
Hughes Galleries, London, via Selwyn Dewdney;
Acquired either from Hughes Galleries or directly from Selwyn Dewdney;
Collection of Dr. George and Mrs. Joanne MacDonald, Cantley, Quebec;
Estate of Dr. George MacDonald.
Norval Morrisseau began selling paintings and painted baskets around 1957, and met Joseph and Esther Weinstein in 1958; the couple would become avid collectors and supporters of his work. He met the amateur anthropologist Selwyn Dewdney in July 1960; Dewdney had been researching Anishnaabe rock art and was fascinated by the connection with Morrisseau's art. Dewdney conducted interviews with Morrisseau and edited his writings on Anishnaabe legends, and the two collaborated to produce the 1965 book Legends of My People, the Great Ojibway. Hailing from London, Ontario, Dewdney introduced Morrisseau to Bob Hughes, who owned a local gallery; Hughes took a number of works on consignment. The arrangement was short-lived; Morrisseau met Toronto gallerist Jack Pollock in 1962 and the two forged a long professional relationship. Dewdney also gave the artist advice on colours and materials, suggesting that Morrisseau try painting with earth-tone colours . After consulting with James Houston, who worked with Inuit artists and promoted their work in the South, Dewdney in January, 1961 passed along Houston's suggestion that Morrisseau try painting on moosehide as "Plains Indians did." Morrisseau occasionally painted on hide in the early 1960s but did use a muted colour palette for several years .
A clue that this painting is one of Morrisseau's early attempts on hide is the fact that the Neebeenape figure has breasts. In a letter dated April 20, 1962 Dewdney suggested that the depiction of breasts was "un-Ojibway" and too much like the European idea of a mermaid . Morrisseau obviously took the advice; for an undated (probably 1962) hide painting of Neebeenape in the Weinstein Collection, see Greg Hill et al (NGC, 2006), fig. 21. Neebeenape and Michipichou is an important early work that clearly demonstrates Morrisseau's move away from his pictographic style and towards a much more painterly approach. Although "authentic" as defined by Dewdney's and Houston's criteria - painted in earth-tones and white on hide - the painting also shows the European art influences that Morrisseau was absorbing. While the two figures, Michipichou (Mishipashoo), a powerful and dangerous cat-like water spirit, and the Neebeenape (Nepii-Naba), a more benign, mermaid-like sprite, don't exactly interact, the image does strike us as a "scene" set in their underwater home.
1. Greg A. Hill, "Norval Morrisseau - Shaman Artist" in Greg Hill et al, Norval Morrisseau - Shaman Artist (Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 2006), p. 18-20.
2. Ruth B. Phillips, "Morrisseau's 'Entrance': Negotiating Primitivism, Modernism, and Anishnaabe Tradition" in Greg Hill et al, op. cit., p. 63.
3. Ibid., p. 67.
References: For other depictions of Neebeenape see Lister Sinclair and Jack Pollock, The Art of Norval Morrisseau (Toronto: Methuen, 1979), p. 53. For depictions of Michipichou see Sinclair and Pollock (1979), p. 71; Greg Hill et al, Norval Morrisseau (NGC, 2006), figs. 29-31, and cat. 9.