Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
January 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Art in Canada

[to 1948]



Since Canada is a British Dominion with more than three thousand miles of frontier touching the United States of America, it is difficult to dissociate her art from British tradition and American influence. At the time she was wrested from the French, in 1759, there was no native art of any importance, but the French missionaries had introduced paintings of a religious character for the purpose of Christianizing the natives, with the result that in some of the early churches and monasteries, conspicuously in Laval in the city of Quebec, there were paintings of great artistic and intrinsic value. The churches also brought to life a native art in the shape of wood carvings for altars and interior decoration, and while some claim to artistic value can be made for these carvings, they should properly be placed among the handicrafts.


Painting, therefore, did not enter into the lives of the people as a fine art until at least a hundred years later. Feeble efforts had been made to encourage pictorial art, but nothing of a permanent character resulted until late in the nineteenth century.


In pursuit of the sources of art in Canada we turn naturally to the redman, from him to the early trader and the missionary, and from these again to the first settlers. But while the priest and the settler brought some works of art with them, mostly for religious purposes, and while there are records of a few native painters (De Beaucourt, Louis Delongpré, Antoine Plamondon, Joseph Legaré, T. Hamel, Gilbert Stuart Newton, and William Valentine) mostly portraitists, the results have had but little influence on the art of the country. Into Old Canada were brought some good examples of early European painting, especially the pictures now assembled in the imposing collection at Laval University , where there are examples of Italian, Flemish, Dutch, French and English schools and of individual masters, including Signorelli, Salvatore Rosa, Simone Memmi, Van Loo, Guido Reni, Poussin, Gainsborough, Reynolds, Lawrence, Vandyck, Correggio, Rubens, Cuyp, Fragonard, Velasquez, and Carlo Dolci. Most of these paintings were sent to Canada during the French Revolution and were collected by the Hon. Joseph Legaré, who was one of the early Canadian painters. Others were bought for Legaré in Europe. But while they are interesting in themselves and valuable, they should not be taken into our present consideration.


Therefor we must come down to the beginning of the nineteenth century before we can find the beginnings of art in Canada . And in doing so we are confronted with a significant set of coincidences. We find that in the years 1806, 1810, and 1812 the stars in their courses must have favoured the future of art in this new country. For in 1806 George Theodore Berthon, an artist who eighty years later left in Canada many excellent examples of art, was born in Vienne, France. Four years later, in 1810, there was born in England Daniel Fowler, whose work is among the best of the artists in Canada who have laid down their brushes forever. In the same year, as we have recorded, Paul Kane came into the world. Two years later, in the old town of Königsberg , Prussia, O. R. Jacobi was born, and in the same year Cornelius Krieghoff first saw the light in the quaint city of Rotterdam. Both came to Canada later on, and while Krieghoff has been called the Hogarth of Canada (his studies of rural life and types in Lower Canada meriting that distinction), Jacobi, perhaps rightly, is regarded as the most conspicuous of our early painters. It is well to record here also that two of the first artists from abroad to leave an impression in Canada were Hoppner Meyer and E. C. Bull. Meyer was a son of the London engraver of the same name. Some of his water-colour portraits are still to be seen in Toronto, and are examples of a refined and elevated taste. Bull was accounted a splendid pencil draughtsman. He taught drawing at Upper Canada College and the Mechanics Institute.


George Theodore Berthon received in France his training as a portrait painter, studying under his father and also under David. As a young man he went to England, but on the advice of a friend then living in Canada he came to this country and settled in Toronto as a professional portrait painter. His first commission was a portrait of Chief Justice Robinson, and thereafter, for the Law Society, he painted portraits of successive Chief Justices. These fine big canvases now hang in Osgoode Hall, and, although they are appreciated only by the few, they compose nevertheless a notable collection, worthy of being placed where they could command more attention from the public. They are Victorian in style and feeling, and they have a somewhat literal or photographic quality. But they are highly convincing and convey an authentic impression of personality. They are sound in construction and dignified in effect, and they must have been well executed technically in order to have retained their present freshness and clarity of colour. It is fortunate that an artist so sound was available to record for us with apparent faithfulness the appearance of so many of our public men of the Confederation and pre-Confederation periods. Besides portraits Berthon painted a few landscapes, but it is on portraiture alone that his reputation rests. He was elected a member of the Royal Canadian Academy in 1880, and he died in Toronto in 1892.


Naturally one wonders why an artist would come to a country where there was as yet almost no artistic development. We acknowledge the pioneer spirit and we have before us, even in our own country, the instance of Paul Kane. But Kane went into remote parts with no intention of remaining. Nor did he remain. Then, again, there is the instance of Gaugin, the French painter who went to the island of Tahiti, lived amongst the coloured people of that land, painted them and died there.


Scarcely can we believe that Jacobi came to Canada with much thought of remaining. There is a record that he came for the single purpose of painting Shawinigan falls, a beautiful bit of natural scenery near Three Rivers, not many miles from the city of Montreal. The fact that he remained and passed his last days here is a fine tribute to the attractiveness of the country. For he had been a distinguished painter in his own land, where, after a course of training at Düsseldorf, he had received com missions from the Duke of Westphalia and the Emperor of Russia. Besides these attentions, the Duke of Nassau had appointed him court painter at Wiesbaden, where he had remained for twenty years.


Jacobi was about fifty years of age when he came to Canada in or close to the year 1860. He was then at the height of his power. His paintings of this period, and even of the period embracing the next ten years, display a good sense of colour values, though they may be found lacking in originality and variety of design. Some of his paintings are notable for their delightful tones of gray, but most of them are emphatic exponents of the merits of red and orange.


In Jacobi Shawinigan falls must have aroused genuine enthusiasm, for the painting of waterfalls became with him a veritable passion. And notwithstanding the many opportunities to be found in Ontario and Quebec for catering to this passion, he fell into the dangerous practice of repeating. One of his favourite compositions was an orange sunset, with some indication of trees on each side and a waterfall down the middle. This somewhat sentimental bit of landscape he repeated many times, with, of course, enough variation to show that it was not the product of the stencil. He was an idealist, and for that very reason there is but little "Canadian" feeling in his work. His landscapes, with some exceptions as far as type goes, might as well be called Prussian as Canadian. He loved to render his impression of a landscape bathed in the enrapturing glow of the setting sun, and yet no one can say of many of these impressions that this is that or that is this.


Jacobi had been in Canada about a decade when, in 1873, the Ontario Society of Artists was organized. He was among the first exhibitors. He was also one of the first teachers in the school of art which began about that time and which is known now as the Ontario College of Art. But his teaching was of short duration and of but little consequence. It appears that Jacobi did not relish the fact of being exceeded in academic honours by one whom he regarded as his inferior in distinction and even in artistic accomplishments. Lucius R. O'Brien, who had turned from architecture to painting and who put an active mind to all things affecting art in Toronto, suggested that Jacobi be invited to join the school as teacher of water-colour drawing and that the teachers be distinguished as professors.


Mollified by the offer of these honours Jacobi accepted them and became forthwith one of the professors. But the honours were not to last long. For Jacobi, however grave may have been his fault of repetition, seems to have been a better painter than a teacher. He had no system, but relied solely on demonstration. The result was about the same as if a juggler were to display his greatest skill and then command his pupil to do likewise. Jacobi would surround himself with the class, which was in number about twelve or fifteen, and, taking a water-colour pad on his knee, would proceed to paint. He used the old-fashioned dry water-colours, and the brushes were composed of stiff, stubby bristles which he cleaned by drawing them between his teeth and lips.


"Now," he would say, retaining his Teutonic accent, "ve vill make a nize leetle eater-colour. Ve vill put a round spot of red in the centre; so,  Zat is ze sun. Now ve vill take some yellow, so, and some purple, so, and before you know it, ve haf a sky. Then ve put some trees on this side and some odders on the odder side, so. And then ve run a leetle vaterfall down the meedle, so; and it is finished. Now you haf seen me make a eater-colour. It is very simple. Make one yourself."


Each pupil, encouraged by the apparent simplicity of the work, would begin immediately, the idea being to paint with the same facility. But the results in most instances were at once disastrous and in the end highly discouraging. Mostly for that reason, Jacobi did not last long as a "professor", but he accepted from time to time a few private pupils. Among these was the late Henry Sandham, R.C.A., who in the 'nineties had some reputation in New York as an illustrator. It cannot be shown, however, with all his good work and his indifferent teaching, that Jacobi had any effect on the art of the country. His paintings, pleasing as they may be in colour and tone, and interesting as they always are in method, will be valuable more for their association than for their artistic superiority. He never was in actual sympathy with Canadian scenery, never so much as with the scenery of his imagination. Nor can it be shown that he ever advanced in any Canadian spirit. During his latest years his work deterioriated under defective eyesight. He applied spectacles in course of time - two sets of lenses and, finally, three sets. Still he wondered why his admirers turned to his earlier productions in preference to his later. He long endured these conditions, living very simply in the city of Toronto, and his pictures sold at about one-tenth the price they could fetch at public auction in the same city fifty years later. Near the end of his career he went to the western States, where he died in 1901.


Almost contemporaneous with the coming of Jacobi to Canada was the coming of Daniel Fowler. What could have induced Fowler to come? He was an Englishman and had studied law first and then art. He had passed a year in study on the Continent and afterwards had opened a studio in London . But, his health declining, he sought rejuvenation in the wilds of Canada. He settled on Amherst island near Kingston. For fourteen years he lived there, but the desire to paint must have lain dormant, for that period of his life was barren so far as art is concerned. Then he visited London. There the former desire to paint was revived. He returned to his island home in Canada, and for many years thereafter he was a painter of large and varied output. He gave most of his attention to landscape and still-life. His colouring at times is brilliant and there is in his work more breadth than in the work of most of his contemporaries. Examples of it may be seen in the National Gallery of Canada, at Ottawa.


Of Krieghoff there are scarcely any records apart from his work. One is safe in assuming, notwithstanding, that he came to Canada in the course of his wanderings from one place to another and settled in the country, near Montreal. He must have had a good rearing, for he was an accomplished linguist, a musician of some attainments, and he was as well a student of botany. It is recorded also that he received a training in art at Rotterdam . Even so, from his native land he was attracted to America. But he came more as an itinerant musician than as a painter: He possessed an adventurous disposition, and at the time of the Seminole trouble in Florida he joined the United States forces and attained the rank of sergeant. Later he drifted northwards into Canada, and remained for some time in Montreal . At length he found his way to the city of Quebec, and apparently it was the friendships formed there that induced him to remain. Then began the serious portion of his career as a painter. He came to the conclusion that he was not an efficient draughtsman, and his work shows that the conclusion was based on reason. Convinced of this defect, he went to Paris, where he studied for two years, after which he returned to Quebec. Without doubt he was benefited by the schooling, but it cannot be said that he ever attained much skill in drawing. Nevertheless, he was a fair draughtsman, and he possessed great adaptability. He gave much attention to landscape painting, but he used the human figure and various animals as accessories and oftentimes as the chief motive.


Krieghoff enjoyed considerable patronage in Quebec , where his paintings were acquired by most of the wealthy residents of the city. Brilliant in tone as were many of his landscapes, particularly the scenes of autumn, they were not too brilliant for the taste of the art fanciers of that time and place, and many of the officers stationed at Quebec took with them on their return to England specimens of Canadian scenery as depicted by this artist; many of these were painted in one day in the open. There were also Indian and French Canadian types, subjects that appealed greatly to Krieghoff. And, while the artist was prone to use lavishly the primary colours, some of his paintings, judged even as the productions of to-day, are really charming in tone, composition and method. Most of them, on the other hand, would be regarded now as being too raw in colour and crude in execution. Many of them have the appearance of highly-coloured lithographs. The figures might be regarded as the work of a caricaturist and humorist. We find in his work touches that suggest Hogarth and conceits that might well come from Cruikshank. The French Canadian and the Indian were his special subjects. Therefore the wigwam, the canoe, and the mansard roof are important accessories to his compositions. The breaking up of a dance at a French Canadian farmstead and running the toll-gate were subjects that appealed to his sense of humour, and the results of his efforts to realize these events on canvas are amusing, even if exaggerated. His weakness for exaggeration ran to such lengths as that of having a rheumy old man running on crutches after a horse that has passed, galloping, through the toll-gate, or that of sleighs upsetting, dogs fighting, horses bolting and persons looking on from upstairs windows during the leave-taking after the dance. The ridiculous aspects of these are amusing, even if some critics might pronounce them inartistic.


Krieghoff was in most instances a close observer, and his pictures, like Kane's, are valuable as giving details of habits, customs and many things that compose the everyday life of a people. In these respects the works of Kane and Krieghoff differ greatly from the works of Fowler and Jacobi. For there is little that is topographical in Jacobi's, nothing that is historical in Fowler's. These two strove to produce art, and while they came from foreign lands, it is to them that we look for the first elements of art in a country that even yet gives thought mostly to the common amenities of life.


Let us remark that Kane, Krieghoff, Fowler and Jacobi were born at a time when, even in the United States, art had not begun to attain a foothold. In Canada population was sparse, conditions crude, and only the wealthy or official class had much opportunity for practising the principles of refinement. We have to imagine Krieghoff and Fowler coming into a country where there were few, if any, art societies, no art schools, scarcely even an artist; where the people were compelled, after settling questions of politics and religion, to think about the prime necessaries of life and to ignore the refining influences of painting and the high grades of literature.


Fowler and Jacobi we must accept as real artists. For that reason it is easy to assume that they had no intention of remaining in the country. Still they did remain, and they passed most of their latter days here. At the time of Fowler's coming (1843) the country was not in the mood to encourage art; for the people, apart from earning a livelihood, were mostly concerned with affairs of church and state. These were the days closely following the time of the Family Compact and the Château clique the days of John Strachan, William Lyon Mackenzie, and Louis Joseph Papineau. Toronto, which is now regarded as the art centre of the Dominion, was a small village skirting a marsh. Montreal, which has ranked as the third city on the continent for imposing private collections of paintings, was then nothing more than an important place of trade. Ottawa, which now boasts of the National Gallery, was a small frontier settlement known as Bytown. Colonization in Upper Canada had scarcely begun. The people, thrust between traders and soldiers, had no room for the fine arts, even if they had the disposition to welcome them.


We are considering, of course, a period prior to the time of Inness, Homer, and Ranger in the United States and prior also to what is called in England the pre-Raphaelite Movement - the time made notable by Carlyle and Watts, Tennyson and Burne-Jones, Wordsworth and Rossetti, Browning and Leighton, William Morris and Holman Hunt. In France neither Millet nor Manet, each of whom has made a profound impression on the art of the world, had as yet tasted fame.


The four painters, however, whom we have discovered as the pioneers of art in Canada, apart from Kane, did not actually come upon the scene as artists until about the middle of the century. That was not a propitious time for the advancement of art. Still, we find that in 1834 the Artists' Society had conducted the first art exhibition on record in Toronto . This exhibition had been held in the old Parliament Building , with Sir John Colborne, the lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, as the chief patron. Thirteen years later the Toronto Society of Arts had been organized. This society had held three exhibitions, and among the exhibitors had been Krieghoff, G. T. Berthon, and Paul Kane. Later still, in 1867, the very year of Confederation, the Society of Canadian Artists, which had but a brief career, was organized in Montreal, with John Bell-Smith, father of F. M. BellSmith, as its president.


But the country itself was progressing. The rebellion of '37 had passed, and responsible government, the cause of much contention, was at length established. Toronto had become a place of some consequence, boasting the seat of government, a university, and, as citizens, a number of distinguished personages. Montreal was climbing Beaver Hall Hill, and such places as Hamilton, Niagara and Kingston could lay claim to a showing of refinement.


But the art of painting was a thing unhonoured and unsung. If it were nurtured at all, it was in the bosoms of strange individuals who came from abroad and settled in Canada , perhaps in remote spots, with hopes of establishing, as Wordsworth established at Rydal, a centre of culture and quiet enjoyment. For example, take the case of the painter William Cresswell. He came to Canada a decade or two later and selected for his future home a beautiful site in Huron county, a few miles from the town of Seaforth . He went, as it would seem to an English gentleman of his means and culture, to the backwoods. For the country still supported dense forests and was still in the pioneer stage of civilization. Nevertheless, the eye of the artist had been attracted thither. The spot where Cresswell chose to build his house, a spot not without aspects of beauty even to-day, though now sadly neglected, looked down upon the valley of the Maitland. The flow of water, which now is shallow and shrunken, formed then a brimming river, and the meadows and elms were such as the artist had admired at home, along the banks of the Avon or the backwaters of the Thames.


Cresswell lived there, there he painted, but he had to go a hundred miles from home before he could find any sympathy with his aims or understanding of his efforts. This applies likewise to Fowler, and it was undoubtedly the experience of Harlow White, another Englishman who came to Canada and essayed the praiseworthy task of painting local scenery.


We can scarcely imagine these artists seeking a market in Canada. On the other hand, we are as unlikely to think of them finding a market abroad. They were as a matter of fact, like others who painted in Canada about the time of Confederation, between the high and the low strata of appreciation. While their topographical pictures could be better done to-day by the camera, they were too good for the Canadian market and not good enough for the markets abroad. There were, happily, some outstanding exceptions - the still-life studies and landscapes of Fowler, which if not strikingly artistic are nevertheless faithful reproductions, and the landscapes of Jacobi. For although we have gone on many years from the time we first introduced these two painters, they were still active and on the scene. Kane, Berthon and Krieghoff also lingered on, although they were, with the exception of Berthon, soon to depart.


These painters witnessed the slow progress of the country. They saw the union of Upper Canada with Lower Canada, the beginning of responsible government, the struggle for Confederation, and finally Upper Canada and Lower Canada become but a part of one vast Dominion. But it must be emphasized that throughout all this, in all these years, they saw only one or two intermittent attempts, which resolved mostly into feeble social gatherings, to place in combination before the public objects of local production that could make any show of artistic merit.


Like Kane, but in later years and under vastly different circumstances, F. A. Verner, R.C.A., a native of Ontario , made studies of western life, treating almost exclusively the buffalo and the Indian. Kane went into great detail. He made pictures of Indian villages, lodges, interiors and exteriors, Indian games, battles, dances, sports, and domestic handicrafts. He shows how the net and spear were used in capturing salmon. In many of the pictures the almost absolute nakedness of the Indians is impressive, though some of them, on the other hand, display an abundance of gorgeous apparel. "Halfbreeds Travelling" shows a large cavalcade passing from an elevation to a lower level. Every vehicle is two-wheeled and is hauled by one ox. A few horses are seen, but they run wild or carry the hunters. Each wagon supports a long upright pole, at the top of which flutters a flag or a tuft of some kind.


Kane's pictures deserve to be known and cherished if for no other reason than that the material for them was obtained by the painter under great risks and difficulties. Kane was born in 1810 in Ireland. He came as a child, with his parents, to York, Upper Canada, at a time when art was almost unknown in that actual backwoods community. He had a natural tendency towards drawing, and in spite of adverse circumstances he succeeded in making the painting of portraits his profession. Early in life, however, he nourished the ambition to devote "such talents as he possessed", to quote from his book Wanderings, to the painting of a series of pictures "illustrative of the North American Indians and scenery". At the age of twenty-six years he visited the southern States, and at thirty he went to Europe to study the paintings to be seen in the important picture galleries. Fifteen years later he returned to Canada , equipped, one might infer, to carry out his chief ambition in life. Through the good offices of Sir George Simpson, governor of the Hudson 's Bay Company, an order was given to the company's numerous brigades of boats to pass Kane through to the Pacific coast and back again. Sir George also gave the artist a commission for a number of pictures, and it was through his appreciation that we can account for Kane's pioneer achievements, for had it not been for the assistance he received it would have been impossible for him to accomplish even a small portion of what he actually did accomplish. For he was, during two and one-half years, a guest of the Hudson 's Bay Company. Kane's portraits of Indian types, many of which have passed away forever, make up the best part of his work. Some of them are praiseworthy, even as works of art, and most of them are well composed, dignified and convincing.


Canada had now advanced to the time of Confederation (1867), and as yet she could claim in painting almost nothing that would attract cultivated attention from abroad, at least in countries where our own language was spoken. England, it is true, was responding to the pre-Raphaelite movement to the profound influence of the group of writers and painters who flourished at that time. But in the United States, Canada's nearest prototype, there had been no big combined movement, and in the whole realm of art where a lasting impression had been left we can point only to such writers as Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and to such painters as John Singleton Copley, George Inness, and Winslow Homer. So that while Canada produced no painters or writers of world-wide reputation she was not hopelessly overshadowed by her powerful neighbour.


Furthermore, it must be observed that while these movements and achievements were being felt abroad, Canada was unconsciously laying the foundations of a vigorous artistic future and, indeed, for an awakening of interest in all the arts. For a movement had begun, a movement which culminated in 1872 with the formation of the Ontario Society of Artists, of which the foundation members were John A. Fraser, Robert F. Gagen, Charles Stewart Millard, Marmaduke Matthews, T. Mower Martin, James Hoch, and J. W. Bridgeman. W. H. Howland, a layman, was the first president, and John A. Fraser, a painter, the first vice-president. A week after the organization meeting H. Hancock was elected a member and appointed secretary, a position which he held until 1889, when he was succeeded by Robert F. Gagen, who held the position until he died, almost fifty years later, and who for more than half a century was not only a refined and able artist but as well a genial guide, philosopher and friend to hundreds of beginners in art in Ontario.


John A. Fraser was, particularly at that time, an inspiration to the artists associated with him. He had an unusually direct method of handling watercolours, and in this medium his work still takes one right back to Cotman.


The first exhibition of the Ontario Society was held during April, 1873. Among the exhibitors were five who were still exhibiting fifty years later: Robert F. Gagen, F. M. Bell-Smith, F. A. Verner, T. Mower Martin, and Marmaduke Matthews.


To appreciate the significance of this early society it is well to keep in mind the fact that it preceded the organization of the Royal Canadian Academy and that it preceded also the organization in the United States of the Art Students' League and the Society of American Artists.


During this period, that is during the 'seventies, a wave of artistic sentiment reached many persons of influence in both Canada and the States. As a result the Art Students' League of New York was formed in 1875 and the Society of American Artists in 1878 About the same time a group of enthusiastic laymen, headed by Benaiah Gibb, founded the Montreal Art Association, which ever since has been the most robust art organization in the Dominion, not so much for the encouragement of art in Canada, if one could except its school of art, as for the acquisition of a beautiful gallery and beautiful paintings to place therein. This association had great advantages accruing from the sympathy and support of wealthy citizens, advantages that never have been enjoyed by any similar association in Canada, to the same generous extent.


Canada, however, could not as yet claim much distinction in art. Nevertheless the period of the 'seventies was formative, as well in politics as in aesthetics. To the student of Canadian history it possesses features of peculiar interest. The confederated provinces, bound together here and there by straggling communities and separated elsewhere by long stretches of uninhabited wilderness, were taking their first uncertain steps towards the goal of a great, extensive Dominion. The fishermen of Nova Scotia knew but little of the Quebec habitant or of the Ontario settler; and the habitant and the settler in their turn knew nothing more even of the wonderful possibilities of their own territories and less still of the amazing significance of the vast regions lying westward for three thousand miles between them and the Pacific. But the Intercolonial Railway was being built, the Canadian Pacific was being projected, and the old Grand Trunk was looking about for feeders. Sir John A. Macdonald, conscious of the need of an attractive scheme to raise his party out of the mire into which it had been thrown by the Pacific Scandal, began to introduce his ingenious National Policy, which by the application of a protective tariff was a bold attempt to force trade among the provinces by placing a barrier against foreign goods, particularly goods from the United States .


But what has all this to do with art? Nothing, except that with the attempt to nationalize trade we discover an attempt to nationalize art. The Princess Louise, who, as consort of the governor-general, the Marquis of Lorne, brought with her our first official touch of royalty, was herself something of an artist. She had lived at home during the period of the pre-Raphaelites, had seen the Barbizon School reach its zenith in France, had beheld the startling fame of such men as Turner and Corot, and now, as the impersonation of royalty in the greatest colonial possession that the world had ever seen, she undertook to signalize the Lorne régime by establishing with royal status a Royal Canadian Academy of Arts that might at least have some semblance to the Royal Academy of England.


We should hesitate before giving to the Lorries all the credit for bringing about the organization of the Academy. It is true that the idea was put forward by the Marquis of Lorne at the opening of an exhibition held by the Art Association of Montreal, and soon thereafter the first steps towards organization were taken at a meeting of artists held in Toronto at which the governor-general was present. It was then determined to form a national academy of art which should bring together the leading artists of the country, but which should be quite apart from any other art association.


The Princess Louise, as well as the Marquis himself, took a lively interest in the details of the organization, and it appears that it was left for the governor-general finally to say who should compose the charter members. Every artist in the country, naturally enough, was eager and anxious to be taken into the membership, and it is known that at least one whose name was not on the list submitted to the governor-general was able, by his own persuasions, to convince the royal party at Rideau Hall that his work entitled him to membership, with the result that the wishes of his fellow painters were ignored and his name placed on the list. Perhaps this was due to the natural sympathy of the royal party, because the Marquis himself (as well as the Princess) was a sketch artist of no mean ability.


Kane and Krieghoff had passed away, but Fowler and Jacobi and Berthon, though veterans, had still some years of production ahead of them. Others too had come upon the scene. Lucius O'Brien, a real son of the soil, born at Shanty Bay, Ontario, in 1832, became an architect and afterwards acquired some skill as a water-colourist. But he seems to have possessed other qualities that fitted him to work in sympathy with the Lornes. He became the first president of the Academy. In that capacity he seems to have had more tolerance than many artists have for the supercilious attitude of society towards art, and perhaps for that very reason the early exhibitions were noted more for the social distinction of the guests than for the artistic distinction of the paintings. The fact that O'Brien was president gave to his own work a consequence that is discovered in it even to-day by art collectors who attach much importance to historical interest. He set up in College Street something of an establishment, just off the main thoroughfare of Toronto, and it is an interesting fact that this house was for several years the headquarters of the Ontario Society of Artists. It is even more peculiarly interesting as an example of the early designing of Frank Darling, an architect and a member of the Royal Canadian Academy, who received, in recognition of conspicuous merit, the gold medal given by the King on the recommendation of the Council of the Royal Institute of British Artists.


Architecture, it will be observed, was and is a recognized branch of the Royal Canadian Academy. Of a total membership of forty, the constitution provides for nine architects, while there may be as many as twenty-two painters, five sculptors, and four designers, etchers, or engravers. Although for years no woman had been an Academician, as the members of full rank are named, there are a number of women on the list of associates and one Academician, Miss Marion Long. It had been understood commonly that women could not be admitted into full membership, but there is nothing in the constitution to prevent them. In the early days one woman (Mrs. Charlotte M. B. Schreiber) was recognized as an Academician, but at that time there was in the constitution a clause to the effect that women members would not be required to act in committee. Since then that clause has been removed, but all along there seems to have been a determination to debar women from taking any active part in the affairs of the Academy. It had not been assumed that women cannot qualify, but it had been unlikely that any woman could command enough votes to elect her. So that we have throughout the Dominion a number of other women who are acknowledged to be better artists than some of the Academicians, and yet they may not append the letters R.C.A. to their names. They are permitted, however, to append A.R.C.A., which signifies associate membership.


The so-called charter members of the Academy were Napoléon Bourassa, W. N. Cresswell, A. Allan Fdson, Daniel Fowler, John A. Fraser, James Griffiths, Robert Harris, Eugène Hamel, J. W. Hopkins, H. Langley, T. Mower Martin, L. R. O'Brien, William Raphael, Henry Sandham, Mrs. Charlotte M. B. Schreiber, T. S. Scott, James Smith, W. G. Storm, and F. C. van Luppen. Of these nineteen, five were architects - Hopkins, Langley, Scott, Smith, and Storm. Van Luppen was a sculptor. He was born in Belgium , and there also he died.


In reviewing the Academy it is well at the same time to review the Ontario Society of Artists, for the one dovetails into the other. Perhaps it would be fairer to say that the Society has been a stepping-stone to the Academy. But, as we have observed, the Society was the first organization. It had been in existence about eight years when the Academy was formed, in 1880. The Ontario Society is a chartered body, but, unlike the Academy, it has no academical status and therefore may not and does not issue diplomas.


The Society has flourished with the aid of a meagre annual grant of money from the Ontario government. Most of the money, $500 annually, was used according to agreement, for the purchase of paintings from each annual exhibition. For some time there was a fund of $1,200 expended annually by the Ontario government through a committee, mostly laymen, for purchasing paintings by members of the Society on condition that the Society should maintain an exhibit of work in the Normal School, Toronto. Many of these paintings were hung from year to year in the corridors and other available space in the Normal School building, and others were hung in the parliament buildings. These buildings withstood the strain for about forty years, but at length the Whitney government resolved to disperse the collection by having individual pictures hung in normal schools of the province. The educative value of the scheme is doubtful, and while it should worry no one as to this disposition of many of the pictures, the aggregate effect, if these pictures could be properly assembled, would be important.


Notwithstanding all this, the Society has been a recruiting ground for the Academy, and the same, but in a lesser degree, applies to the Montreal Art Association. From the Society went in the first place Jacobi and Fowler, and Jacobi succeeded O'Brien as president. The same can be said of nearly every artist in Ontario . In its membership the Society has not been so restricted as the Academy, and to it beginners in painting commonly have looked for their first introduction to the public. The standard in these organizations never has been rigid, but young painters naturally receive with greater regard an acceptance for exhibition by a committee of the Academy.


An indirect effect, even if but slight, of the presence of foreign artists in Canada, where they were confined almost exclusively to the interior province of Ontario and the adjacent city of Montreal, was the encouragement thereby given to native Canadians to study art in foreign countries. This was felt first in the 'eighties and 'nineties, when many young Canadians sought knowledge and inspiration abroad, mostly in France , but also in England, in Holland and elsewhere on the Continent. And even to-day critics are heard complaining, though not so frequently or grievously as heretofore, that Canadian artists see their own country through foreign spectacles.


Conspicuous among the first Canadian artists to study and work abroad was James Wilson Morrice, who died in Tunis in 1924. He is represented in the Luxembourg Galleries, Paris ; the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia ; the Section Art Décoratif of the Louvre, Paris ; the Tate Gallery, London ; the National Gallery of Art, Washington; the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, and in public galleries in Nantes and Odessa. He was a member of many important art organizations in Paris and London. His choice of subject usually was landscape or marine, but he also painted the figure.


Horatio Walker is another important Canadian painter, still living. His bent has been towards landscapes, with animal figures, and genre subjects. He has been dubbed the Canadian Millet. Half a dozen medals have been awarded to him in the United States, where examples of his work can be seen in many public libraries. Other Canadian painters who have lived and painted abroad with distinction are Paul Peel, Wyatt Eaton, Blair Bruce, Curtis Williamson, E. Wyly Grier, E. Y. Dyonnet, John Russell, Ernest Lawson, W. E. Atkinson, Clarence Gagnon, A. Suzor-Coté, St. Thomas Smith, Homer Watson, Lawren Harris, Franklin Brownell, and A. Y. Jackson. Peel's canvas "After the Bath" was awarded a gold medal at the Salon, Paris, in 1892, and was bought by the Hungarian government. Eaton was active in the organization of the American Art Association. Williamson was awarded a medal at Philadelphia for figure painting, and he also won a silver medal at the St. Louis Universal Exposition. Lawson has won several valuable awards in the United States as a landscapist, and he is classed among the foremost "American" painters. Gagnon is best known abroad as an etcher, and he is represented in the Petit Palais, Paris; South Kensington Museum, London ; and in Dresden, Venice , Mulhausen, and The Hague . Watson was awarded a gold medal at the Pan-American Exhibition, Buffalo, in 1901. Brownell was awarded a gold medal at the Paris Exhibition of 1900. Jackson is one of the only two Canadians represented in the Tate Gallery, London, the other being James Wilson Morrice. Harris also has won distinction and several prizes abroad.


Within quite recent years there has been in Canada, as elsewhere, a departure, mostly by young artists, from. academic lines. This was first noticed in the city of Toronto, where, in 1920, they gave their first public exhibition in the name of the Group of Seven. This group was composed of Lawren Harris, A. Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer, J. E. H. Macdonald, Frank Johnston, F. Horsman Varley, and Franklin Carmichael. These painters, several of whom were young and venturesome, found their inspiration in the wild and rugged parts of northern Ontario , where Tom Thomson and J. W. Beatty, their forerunners, had already blazed a trail. Thomson, who died when his work was just coming into prominence in a restricted sense, was not a modernist in keeping with the meaning that since has been attached to that word; nor was Beatty. For while Thomson painted in a bold and luscious manner, he gave corresponding attention to contour and design. From these features the Group of Seven departed, as many other groups and individuals elsewhere had departed, until they became, in the painting of landscape, which was their chief vehicle, as bizarre almost as the ultra bizarre anywhere, although not so extreme as the "cubists", the "vorticists", "abstractionists", or many others who have devised cognomens for their cults.


Within recent years, the "modern" tendency in painting has attracted mostly the younger painters, especially beginners, with the result that for years every regular exhibition of paintings in Canada has been dominated by works that are at least loud in colour and formidable in treatment and design. One group of students went so far as to withdraw in a body from the Ontario College of Art in order to establish a society or group where they might work out what they regarded as their own ideas untrammelled by tradition or the restrictions of academic teaching. The last few years, however, have seen a change; so much so, indeed, that at the annual exhibition of the Ontario Society of Artists of late years the absence of extreme or "freakish" pictures was regarded by many persons as a relief. Nevertheless this later group joined with the Group of Seven to compose the present Group of Canadian Painters.


Passing mention has been made of early wood carvings in Canadian churches, but sculpture on the whole was not a notable art in Canada until near the end of the eighteenth century. The first sculptor of real significance was a French Canadian, Philippe Hébert, examples of whose work may be seen in the bronze casts of historical subjects which stand in front of the provincial parliament buildings in the city of Quebec, and of the Maisonneuve monument, which takes the form of a public fountain in Place d'Armes, Montreal. Another historical monument, the largest and most imposing that has yet been produced by a Canadian, is the one erected on Vimy Ridge, France, as a memorial to the Canadian soldiers who fell in the great battle fought there, The sculptor is Walter S. Allward, a member of the Royal Canadian Academy. Allward's monument to Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, stands in the city of Brantford , and another to the Canadian soldiers who fell in the South African war rises skyward in the city of Toronto . Other Canadian sculptors are A. Laliberté, Dr. R. Tait MacKenzie, George W. Hill, Hamilton P. MacCarthy, A. Phimister Proctor, Katherine E. Wallis, A. Suzor-Coté, Emmanuel Hahn, Frances Loring, Florence Wyle, Elizabeth Wood, Alfred Howell, and Lionel Fosbery.


A. Phimister Proctor is one of the most notable Canadian sculptors. He was on the jury of the Paris Exhibition of 1900, and is represented in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, the Art Gallery of Toronto, the National Gallery of Canada, and in several public parks in New York City. The huge lions in front of the Public Library on Fifth Avenue in the same city are of his moulding, as well as the colossal sleeping lions which are a part of the McKinley Memorial Monument in the city of Buffalo. Bronze casts of statues by Hill, which are mostly historical, may be found in the city of Montreal and in the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh ; and by MacCarthy in Ottawa , Saint John, N.B., and Annapolis Royal , N.S. The work of the other sculptors mentioned is mostly of miniature proportions, although Dr. MacKenzie has executed a number of life-size figures of athletes and classic heroes. As a result of the Great War many monuments of patriotic character have been erected in cities and towns, and even villages, but most of them possess doubtful artistic merit. There are as well, in conspicuous spots adjacent to the public buildings in the capitals of the nine provinces that compose the Dominion, and also at the Dominion capital (Ottawa), monuments to British rulers and statesmen, and to Canadian public men, educationists, ecclesiastics, military heroes, politicians, and leaders generally.


The principal public art galleries in Canada, indeed the only ones of note, are the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, the Art Gallery of Toronto, and the Montreal Art Gallery. The National Gallery possesses examples of all the early painters in Canada , most of the contemporaneous native painters, all the diploma paintings of the Royal Canadian Academicians, and as well a creditable collection of old masters and modern painters. The Montreal Art Gallery displays a number of very fine old masters and examples of later schools, but the showing of work by Canadians is meagre. Canadian painters, again, are represented better in the Art Gallery of Toronto, where there is also a limited showing of eighteenth and nineteenth century art.


For private collections of paintings Montreal, until recently, was regarded as the third most notable city on the American continent. There were the collections of Lord Strathcona, Lord Mountstephen, Sir George Drummond, Sir William Van Horne, and the Greenshields, but most of these collections have been dispersed. In the city of Toronto may be seen in private houses what are accepted as fine examples of such painters as Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Romney, Raeburn, Gainsborough, and Reynolds, as well as of celebrated modern French and Dutch painters. The capital city, Ottawa, which is much less important in size and wealth than the other two cities mentioned, has a number of noteworthy private collections, mostly of the work of contemporaneous European artists.


Architecture in Canada has been affected by European tradition perhaps more than any other art. Nevertheless it has made, from time to time, ever since Champlain built his first habitation under the precipice at Quebec , courageous attempts to build edifices that would meet the requirements of the climate, the people, and the times, in a fashion different from that of any other country. This is to be observed, naturally, in French Canada, where the earliest settlers built their homes, clinging, although not too tenaciously, to the simple structure that had been used to in France. "The requirements", as well expressed by Mr. Percy Nobbs, "were for the most part simple in character, with stout walls of well-set rubble, with wooden casements, windows and shutters; steep roofs with pronounced bellcast, stone gables carried up to the skews well above the roof and stout chimneys were the main characteristics of their [the early builders'] work."


These bellshape roofs often extended out so as to form a verandah or shelter at the front door as well as at the back. A prototype, though varied, can still be seen in northern France. But it is true that although the French Canadians never seemed to have achieved a log structure in the same sense as had the Swiss and the Scandinavians, still they early learned to set logs horizontally, with notches and bonds at the quoins.


The foregoing applies to early domestic architecture. For more pretentious and public buildings there was a mixture of the French and, later, the Georgian classic, to be followed by the revised Gothic of the Victorian era. More recent developments in the United States have had a marked effect, influenced by historic facts and racial instincts.


With the beginning of the twentieth century a great change came in domestic architecture, which, although it was largely due to architects trained abroad, contained novel characteristics and features well suited to climatic conditions. This change has been most noticeable in the inland provinces of Ontario and Quebec.


The Old Country tradition was early established in the Maritime provinces and parts of Ontario, where there were early settlements of Scots, while in southern Quebec and the Ottawa valley wood construction in studding, clapboarding and shingled roofs resembled the edifices of a similar character in New York and Massachusetts, in the United States. Here and there frequently one could see, and still can see, the influence of classicism, especially in the southern States, where columns and mouldings whose influence has been felt even as far northward as Canada are in evidence to-day. At Halifax, on the Atlantic coast, there Are some noble buildings in the Georgian style, and farther inland there are many huge buildings for carrying on commerce and finance, especially in Montreal and Toronto . In Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal ; in Parliament Buildings, Ottawa, and in the main building of the University of Toronto one can see fine examples of Victorian Gothic architecture.


The bibliography of art in Canada is meagre. Apart from brochures and magazine articles, only a very few works of reference have been published on the subject. In the year 1913 E. F. B. Johnston published a monograph entitled "Canadian Art and Artists", which appeared in the form of a special chapter for Canada and its provinces, (Toronto : The Publishers Association. Twenty-three volumes). In 1925 Newton MacTavish published The Fine Arts in Canada, which was the first comprehensive history of the kind, (Toronto The Macmillan Company of Canada), and in 1927 F. B. Housser published an appreciation of the Group of Seven entitled A Canadian art movement (Toronto: The Macmillan Company of Canada). A comprehensive brochure on Canadian painters and sculptors, by M. O. Hammond, was published in 1930 (Toronto : The Ryerson Press). Several "year books" on art in Canada have been issued, the latest and most ambitious of the kind being Year Book of the Arts in Canada, 1928-29, edited by Bertram Brooker, (Toronto: The Macmillan Company of Canada). A recent book is Albert Robson, Canadian landscape painters (Toronto: The Ryerson Press, 1932).


Source : Newton MacTAVISH, ""Art", in W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada , Vol. 1, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 398p., pp. 98-111.

© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College