A Note on the Verso Inscriptions

Concerning inscriptions on the verso of works, it is important to understand that the first to write or draw on them was the artist, along with his painting peers. 

The following symbols or abbreviations may also occur:

Estate stamp: The original stamp was designed by J.E.H. MacDonald after Thomson’s death to authenticate his sketches, many of which were unsigned. It was a metal die cut in Toronto by Bernard Cairns. Thoreau MacDonald, MacDonald’s son, remembered stamping some of the sketches with it, likely in combination with his father, and, after his father’s death, it remained in his possession. He donated it to the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. At an unknown date, an identical rubber stamp was made, possibly to the order of Dr. MacCallum or the Thomson family (see Thoreau MacDonald to Helen Bradfield, 28 January 1966, Library and Archives, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto). 

No. x Mrs. Harkness/ HARKNESS/ H: Thomson’s oldest sister, Elizabeth Thomson Harkness (1869-1934) listed the works in the estate and applied the numbers she assigned to the verso of Thomson works.

OK/GT: In later years, to authenticate works, Thomson’s oldest brother, George (1868-1965) added to the backs of works his “OK,” as did other family members such as Fraser Thomson who also added signatures and notes.

No. x M. Thomson (M. Tweedale): Sometime in the 1930s, Margaret Thomson took over the estate, re-listed the works, renumbered them and applied these numbers and her name.

Dr. James M. MacCallum / Dr. James MacCallum / Dr. MacCallum / James MacCallum / J.M. MacCallum / MacCallum / J.M.: Dr. James M. MacCallum, an ophthalmologist who was Thomson’s friend and patron, added his signature to works as well as dates, places, even ideas about framing (hence, the word “copper” on some of the works – it refers to the colour of the frame), as did Thomson’s painting peers, Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer and J.E.H. MacDonald.

S.B.: Studio Building.

H.M.L.: refers to Harold Mortimer-Lamb, an early defender of the Group of Seven, mining engineer and collector. In 1919, he owned seven works as we know from the Thomson 1919 exhibition. He may have considered other sketches for purchase; hence his initials on the verso of works, probably written there by Dr. MacCallum. Dr. MacCallum also was likely the person who wrote the names of other possible clients on works to remind himself of the works they wanted.

R.A.L. / W.C.L.: refers to Robert A. and Walter C. Laidlaw, who ran a lumber business. In 1920-21, they purchased forty sketches because of the reference in them to the forest reserves in Algonquin Park (information from G.Blair Laing, April 10, 1985). I have been able to identify some of these sketches since many of the works in a show at the then Art Gallery of Toronto of 1949 have on their verso catalogue numbers recorded in red or green crayon, numbers often circled, likely by a staff member.

T-T- (and the number): In 1941, on a large group of sketches purchased by Mellors Galleries in Toronto, A.H. Laing, the father of G. Blair Laing, the later owner of the Gallery, who was then working at the Gallery which became Laing Galleries, Toronto, recorded the number he assigned each work on his list.

F.W.: Frank Worrall was an early conservator.