Thursday, 19 May 2016



Between the 1870s and the onset of the First World War most of Europe enjoyed a period marked with a relatively positive aura and peacefulness. This allowed people to focus their efforts on culture, art, literature, science, and technology compared to during the wartimes that flanked either end of this period. The Franco-Prussian War ended in 1871 and World War I broke out in 1914. At the end of the 19th century there was an explosion of interest in restaurants, theatres, cabarets, ballets and art. There were some who thought pessimistically about the extra-frivolity of society at this time, however the two great wars that ravished across Europe afterwards made the lifestyle of the Belle Époque seem enviable. The phrase the joy of living, often expressed in its original French as Joie de Vivre, has since been associated with this interwar period. Despite France’s loss in the Franco-Prussian War, its end was welcomed. A new middle and upper class, the bourgeoisie, began to enjoy life to its fullest. Paris was the epicentre of Belle Époque culture.

Pierre Bonnard The Large Garden 1895(Musee d'Orsay) and Edouard Vuillard Repast in the Garden 1898 (National Gallery, Washington DC)

Artists gravitated to the creative and joyful atmosphere of Paris. They also visited equally enjoyable surrounding areas of retreat, such as coastal towns in Normandy and Brittany, Barbizon, or closer haunts like Giverny, the Bois de Boulogne and the Forest at Fontainebleau. The Parisian atmosphere drew artists from all around the world to study at the origin of cutting edge art movements. This period in time spans movements and ideologies from the earliest en plein air artists of the Barbizon School, through impressionism, to many branches of post-impressionism. Thus, not only was the French atmosphere appealing to foreigners, they looked to the talented exceptional paintings being created by these new French schools. Artists from across the Commonwealth, Europe, Asia and America flocked to enjoy and learn in Paris and attend art schools. Some made only temporary visits to go to school, such as Emily Carr; others became expats of their countries, such as Canadian’s Blair Bruce and J.W. Morrice. Others returned for art-related visits and sketching trips over and over, such as Suzor-Cote, Clarence Gagnon, and Maurice Cullen.

We have discussed the migration of Canadians to Europe in earlier blogs, especially to Paris in this period. So I will not go into more detail about their art again. However there seems an endless amount of topics to discuss from this fruitful period in the history of Canadian or European art history. In the last blog I talked about the International art community coming together in International biennials and fairs. Artists come together at various shows to interact, mingle, share artistic ideas, and make global friendships. Looking back to Belle Époque Paris, I felt that the way the worldwide art community gathers at fairs today to forge friendships correlates to the way in which artists from around the World gathered in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. This led me to ponder not about Canadians specifically, but who taught them, mentored them, befriended them, and made travel companions with them when they were in France.

The International peers of Canadians in France are occasionally mentioned in passing in the literature, but I thought it might be interesting to gather imagery from many of the friend’s from other countries and look at their art together. What sort of art did their teachers do? What were friends painting side-by-side with our country’s cherished artists?

The first wave of Canadians to travel to Paris included William Brymner, Robert Harris, Paul Peel, and William Blair Bruce. The latter two never returned to Canada, and both married Scandinavians. Brymner and Harris would both return home and go on to teach subsequent talents in Montreal and Toronto. They were advocates of further Parisian training for their gifted students. They all trained at the Academie Julian, where many foreign students were trained under great French artists, such as William Bouguereau. Bouguereau was an artist with unbelievable technicality and ability in capturing expressions in the moment.

William Bouguereau Au Pied de la Falaise (Memphis Brooks Museum) and Les Noisettes (Detroit Institute of Arts)

Blair Bruce joined a primarily American group of artists abroad that socialized together. Bruce first befriended Theodore Robinson and together they visited Barbizon. Along with these American expats he rented a barn at Giverny in the summer of 1887. Some of these friends included John Leslie Breck, Willard Metcalf, Henry Fitch Taylor, Theodore Wendel, and Louis Ritter. They were at Giverny whilst Claude Monet was there, and somewhat naturally they gravitated to his new style of painting.

John Leslie Breck Field of Poppies 1889

Toulouse-Lautrec At the Moulin Rouge 1895

J.W. Morrice moved to Paris to study at the Academie Julian a few years after the first wave of Canadians discussed above. He blended into the art scene with ease. His art was highly regarded and he seemed to be accepted as ‘the real deal.’ He was mingling in Montmartre with the historical character Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and got involved in the antagonist salons that were emerging to combat the stale and stagnant ways of the traditional academic salons. Morrice was involved in the first 1903 Salon d’ Automne, the Salon Nationale, and the related Societe Nationale. He engaged in these organizations with his very good Australian friend Charles Conder, and then-established French artists of the time: Jacques Emile Blanche, Charles Cottet, Lucien Simon, and Gaston La Touche.

Charles Conder Hayfield, France 1894

Jacques Emile Blanche Tamara Karsavina for thr cover of Jugend Magazine

Three works by Charles Cottet Douarnenez dimanche matin 1905 (Gallery Hermain), Evening light at the Port of Camaret 1892 and Lamentation des femmes de Camaret au tour de la Chapelle brulee de Rocamadour

Gaston La Touche Pardon in Brittany 1896 (Art Institute of Chicago) and Maiden in Contemplation 1898

Beyond this, Morrice had expat companions who travelled around Europe with him. Morrice loved Venice, which is evident through his exceptional art of the time. However, it is also clear that his travel buddies loved it too; especially his American friend Maurice Prendergast. Prendergast produced some exquisite works while in Venice alongside Morrice. Morrice also went again with an American illustrator, Joseph Pennell.

Three Venetian watercolours (1898-99) by Maurice Prendergast in the MFA Boston and the Addison Gallery of American Art, Massachusetts

Joseph Pennell Towers of St. Martin, Tours circa 1899(Metropolitan Museum)

He also spent time with American artists Robert Henri and Everett Shinn. His closest friends were the Irish artist, Roderick O’Connor, and the Australian, Charles Conder. To my delight, I learned that the Norwegian painter Fritz Thaulow was a sketching buddy of Morrice too. Thaulow and Morrice were both founding members of the Champs de Mars Salon. Thaulow had a studio in Dieppe as well. Morrice also went to Dieppe with the famous English artist Walter Sickert. Other English acquaintances of Morrice were Sir Gerald Kelly and W. Lee Hankey.

A Robert Henri sketch

Charles Conder Coogee Bay 1888 and Roderick O'Connor Farm at Lezaven 1894

Two French riverscapes and The Grand Canal Venice 1885 by Norwegian Fritz Thaulow

Sir Gerald Kelly Beach at Etretat 1908 (Tate Gallery)

W. Lee Hankey Morlaix, Brittany 1936 (sold at auction 2016)

So much of the blog is devoted to Morrice’s friends because his life abroad is so well documented in G. Blair Laing’s biographical book about Morrice. But I will finish with a British Columbian favourite, Emily Carr. According to biographer Doris Shadbolt, when Carr went to Europe in 1910-1911 she went to see what all the fuss was about regarding the newly emerging abstract art but fell in love with post-impressionism. She ended her trip in Brittany, first at St. Efflam and then in Concarneau. Two important people influenced her art at this time and were dear friends of hers. She stayed with her British mentor Henry Phelan Gibb in St. Efflam first. She then spent six weeks in Concarneau with the New Zealand artist Frances Hodgkins.

Henry Phelan Gibb Landscape 1907 (Towner Art Gallery)

Frances Hodgkins At the Window (1912)

There are so many more artists from Canada that travelled to Paris, and other parts of Europe (such as London and Antwerp for art school) that the blog could be a multi-biographical novel. For those who are interested in looking a bit more at the internationalism of impressionism, a great start is the monumental publication World Impressionism: The International Movement 1860-1920.

I hope you enjoy looking at the paintings of Canadian companions and spotting the stylistic similarities and differences between them.


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