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The Art of JAMA
January 20, 2015

L’escalier canadien: Kathleen Daly

JAMA. 2015;313(3):226-227. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.11527

The painters Kathleen Daly (1898-1994) and George Pepper traveled throughout Canada in the mid-20th century in search of subjects for portraits, genre scenes, and landscapes. From 1931 to 1959 they made repeated visits to the Charlevoix region in the province of Quebec. During their 1933 visit to Charlevoix they converted a log cabin into a studio in the mountain village of Saint-Urbain, about 20 km up the Rivière du Gouffre from Baie-Saint-Paul on the St Lawrence River. The awkward staircase in this image by Daly may have been built to access an attic space for a sleeping loft. There is no landing at the turn and no hand rail, and the bottom step encroaches on a washbasin. To climb the stairs one would have to crab walk past the basin, and to use the basin one would have to brace a foot on the lower step; and yet this dysfunctional corner is a thing of beauty. The basin and standpipe are backed by a rusty piece of tin, and the bucket on the floor looks as if it was kicked by a mule, but the staircase, walls, and floor are painted in happy colors. The rough construction and color scheme of L’escalier canadien are reminiscent of the walls, floors, and furniture of a house in the French town of Arles where the painter Vincent van Gogh and his colleague Paul Gauguin lived in 1888, right down to the bright yellow chairs. Streaky planking in weathered primary hues, a basin, a hand towel ruffling in the breeze, and natural light from the windows all can be seen in van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles (1889) and Vincent’s Chair With His Pipe (1888) (JAMA cover, May 24/31, 1985). In 1930s Quebec the influence of France was still strong.