Thursday, 28 March 2013



A great majority of acclaimed Canadian artists throughout the past two centuries have spent time in Europe nurturing their artistic careers. Canadian art throughout the 19th and 20th centuries has always embodied a distinct ‘Canadianness’; whether this is the romantic landscapes of Krieghoff and Kane, Canadian Impressionism, or the more distinct Group of Seven and their followers. However, most important Canadian artists have travelled to Europe to study, and in some cases taken up permanent residency. Particularly in Paris, artists have found a stimulating and supportive environment for developing their artistic careers. Although work executed on Canadian soil and of Canadian subjects might be of greater interest to some, it cannot be overlooked that for many Canadian artists their work in Europe has reflected pivotal periods in their careers.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Canadian artists in Paris would have immersed themselves in an all-encompassing artistic environment. They would spend their days in training at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the Academie Colarossi or the Academie Julian. They would then spend free time congregating with their peers in the creative climate of the boulevard cafes. At this time, Impressionist and subsequently Post-Impressionist movements were at their heights, and both would have lasting effects on visiting Canadians. William Brymner was the first to go and experience Impressionism first hand. He took much away from this experience, and encouraged his own art students back in Montreal to take post-graduate courses in Europe. Artists who travelled to study in Paris academies or elsewhere in Europe included Blair Bruce, Paul Peel, J.W. Morrice, A.Y. Jackson, Suzor-Cote, Edwin Holgate, Albert Robinson, Clarence Gagnon, Laura Muntz, George Reid, Maurice Cullen, Frank Armington, William Clapp, Helen McNicoll, Emily Carr, and Robert Pilot.

Emily Carr went to study in Paris in 1911. She recalled that her goal was, “…to find out what this “new art” was about.” She also spent time in Brittany at St. Efflam and Concarneau. This marked a notable turning point in her artistic career. She embraced post-impressionistic ideals; letting go of realistic representation in favour of bold colour and dynamic brushwork.

In 1912, shortly after Emily Carr sojourned in France, Edwin Holgate went to Paris to study at the Academie de la Grande Chaumerie. Like Carr, he also visited Concarneau in Brittany to paint. Holgate was in Russia and then back in France during World War One, and returned in 1920 to Paris to resume studying art, this time at the Academie Julian. His mentor was Russian artist Adolph Millman, whose art would have a lasting stylistic impression on Holgate. In 1922, Holgate travelled to the south of France, including the seaside town of Sanaray, before returning to Canada.

While most Canadian artists returned to Canada after a period of study, some artists remained in Europe permanently. James W. Morrice went to Paris in 1890, where he first studied at the Academie Julian and later under tutelage of Barbizon painter Henri Harpignies. Morrice befriended those in artistic circles of the time, easily transitioning into the boulevard café lifestyle. Morrice returned almost yearly to Canada for visits, and associated with Canadian artists when they came to Europe, like Maurice Cullen. He made Paris his permanent home, and sketched around Europe frequently. He travelled around France, Italy and Northern Africa. He visited Dennemont and Antwerp in 1906.

Frank Armington was another Canadian artist who made Paris his permanent home from 1905 to 1939. He first went to Paris to study at the Academie Julian in 1899. After a brief few years back in Canada, moved back to Paris with artist wife Caroline. He is known for his impressionistic rendering of Parisian sites, such as the Jardin des Tulieries.

By: Jill Turner

Photo credits:

1. Emily Carr. Portrait of a Woman, Brittany, (France) 1911, watercolour, 14.75 x 11 in.

2. Edwin Holgate. Sanaray (France) 1922, oil on panel, 5.25 x 6.75 in.

3. James W. Morrice. Antwerp (Belgium) 1906, oil on panel, 8.5 x 10.5 in.

4. Frank Armington. Jardin des Tuileries, Paris 1916, oil on canvas, 20 x 24 in.

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