Some years ago, I was researching a serigraph a client had purchased for $5 at a 1946 fund-raising event in the interior of B.C. The 19.50 x 26.25 inch serigraph (silkscreen or screen print) was of A.Y. Jackson's oil on board painting, Smart River (Alaska). Jackson had contributed the 10.5 x 13.5 oil painting (based on his earlier pencil sketch) to the Federation of Canadian Artists for a silkscreen series the Federation produced between late 1945 and 1948 with the Toronto printing firm, Sampson-Matthews.
A.Y. Jackson, Smart River (Alaska), circa 1940-1945, serigraph (silkscreen or screen print)
Jackson's pencil sketches date back to the war years when he travelled the Alaska Highway on a second expedition sponsored by the National Gallery of Canada, and facilitated by the U.S. Army. Such expeditions were an attempt by the Federal Government to offer support to the United States for their war effort, and for the U.S. Army's Alaska Highway construction project.
My client's serigraph is listed on page 10 of a 1948 publication issued by the Department of External Affairs entitled Federation of Canadian Artists Series, Catalogue of Canadian Colour Reproductions. An image of the oil painting illustrated the magazine article, Sketching the Alaska Highway, in the February/March 1944 edition of Canadian Art. And, an image of the original sketch was reproduced on page 187 in Naomi Jackson Groves' study of Jackson's sketches in A.Y.'s Canada.
Further research revealed that in May of 1990, a Canadian auction house listed a "tempera" painting (20 x 26.50 inches) by A.Y. Jackson with the title Smart River, Alaska Highway 1940. The listing stated that a "coloured serigraph (silkscreen print), also based on this subject, was produced by Sampson-Matthews". This piece sold for $12,000 even though the pre-sale estimate was set at $20,000-$25,000.
As far as I know, tempera is not a common medium in the serigraph process because of inherent problems with water solubility and pigment size relative to screen mesh size. A recognizable characteristic of the process is the loss of fine detail as the paint required to develop detail sometimes get trapped in the fine screen mesh and does not pass through onto the paper.
A knowledgeable collector of Canadian art suggested to me that the tempera painting was a mock-up painted to serve as the template for production of the silkscreen images, but this would be unusual given that images are drawn or transferred directly onto the screen. The image printed in the auction catalogue appears to be exactly the same as my clients serigraph. Both have the identical characteristic loss of fine detail in exactly the same locations.
On a further note, another serigraph of this Jackson work was sold at a 2004 Vancouver auction for approximately $1,100.
When considering an art purchase, it is important to undertake a thorough investigation to ensure that there are no discrepancies in the information presented by the auction house. There is an obligation on the part of the seller to exercise due diligence, but the onus falls on the buyer to seek satisfactory verification prior to making a purchase commitment.
Caveat emptor - let the buyer beware.