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 Edmund Montague Morris  (1871 - 1913)

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Lived/Active: Ontario/Quebec / Canada      Known for: Indian portrait and landscape painting, writing

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
two portraits of native american leaders
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Edmund Montague Morris (1871 - 1913)

An influential Canadian artist, author and leader in the art community, Edmund Montague Morris was born in Perth, Ontario and died in Portneuf, Quebec. He is best known for his portraits of native peoples and his leadership of the Canadian Art Club*. His works are collected by several Canadian museums and the story of his founding of the Canadian Art Club* and its influence is discussed in most Canadian art history books. Attached below are biographies courtesy of the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Dictionary of Canadian Biography: Volume XIV, 1911 - 1920:

Below is a biographical sketch courtesy of the Art Gallery of Ontario:

Edmund Montague Morris (1871 - 1913) was a Canadian portraitist, landscape painter and author. Born in Perth, Ontario, he studied in Toronto privately as well as at Toronto Art Students' League 1889-91, and in New York at the Art Students' League, 1891-92. Between 1893 and 1896 Morris was a student at the Académie Julian and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He returned to Toronto in 1896 to set up a studio and became involved in art societies, including the Royal Canadian Academy[*] (ARCA [associate] 1898), the Ontario Society of Artists[*], and the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto. A founding member of the Canadian Art Club in 1907, he was its secretary for several years. He was on the council of the Art Museum of Toronto?now the Art Gallery of Ontario?from 1909. Beginning in 1906 Morris produced the works for which he is chiefly known, portraits in pastels of Canadian aboriginal leaders. Many of these, executed during extensive travel in the Canadian West, were done on commission from the governments of Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan to be hung in provincial legislature buildings. Morris also painted landscapes, especially of scenes along the St Lawrence River in Quebec. It was while working at Portneuf near Quebec City that he drowned in August 1913. He is buried in Toronto. His work is in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa), the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto) and other galleries, especially in Western Canada.
Authors: Amy Marshall and Gary Fitzgibbon
Source: Art Gallery of Ontario E.P. Taylor Research Library and Archives

Below is a (slightly edited and abridged) biography courtesy of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography: Volume XIV, 1911 - 1920" (1998):

Edmund Morris was born into a prominent Ontario family [parents: Alexander Morris and Margaret Cline]. As a child he lived in Winnipeg [Manitoba], where his father was first a judge and then lieutenant governor. The family returned to Ontario in 1878, and Edmund later attended Toronto Collegiate Institute. After working briefly for the architectural firm Darling and Curry, he switched to art and in January 1890 began studies with Toronto artist William Cruikshank. The following year he went to the Art Students' League in New York [where he studied under Kenyon Cox, William Merritt Chase, Henry Siddons Mowbray and George De Forest Brush]. He studied in Paris between 1893 and 1896, first at the Académie Julian [under Jean Paul Laurens and Benjamin Constant] and later at the École des Beaux-Arts [under Jean Léon Gérôme]. Summers were spent painting in Scotland, France, and Holland.

Morris returned to Toronto in 1896. The following summer he discovered the charm of Quebec when he joined Montreal artists Edmond Dyonnet and Maurice Galbraith Cullen on the Beaupré shore. At Île d'Orléans he met Horatio Walker, who had a studio there. The region became a summer rendezvous for Morris and his artist friends, sometimes including Cruikshank and William Brymner.

Financially independent through family inheritances, Morris began about 1900 to devote his energies to the cause of Canadian art. He arranged for works by himself and others to be sent to the International Exhibition held at Glasgow in 1901. He himself won a bronze medal at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y., that fall for his Girls in a Poppy Field. He was elected to the Ontario Society of Artists in 1905 but resigned two years later to help form the Canadian Art Club, established to give Canadian artists greater opportunity to exhibit their work at home. From 1909 he also served on the council of the nascent Art Museum of Toronto (later the Art Gallery of Toronto [now Art Gallery of Ontario]).

At a one-man show in Ottawa in 1905, portraits of native chiefs Poundmaker (Pitikwahanapiwiyin), Big Bear (Mistahimaskwa), and Crowfoot (Isapomuxika), which Morris had painted from photographs, were purchased by Indian Affairs official Duncan Campbell Scott on order from Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier. The following year Morris was commissioned by the Ontario government to accompany the party, headed by Scott, that traveled through northern Ontario to negotiate Treaty No.9. He was to make portraits of as many native leaders as he could. For these portraits he used pastels, which he found to be an excellent medium for depicting a subject who might pose awhile and then suddenly walk away. It was his first direct contact with native peoples, and he was appalled at the conditions under which they lived. He subsequently went with a party of natives to Nipigon country, where he sketched the wilderness landscape.

The portraits were exhibited in Toronto in March 1907. They attracted great public interest, and Ontario premier James Pliny Whitney commissioned Morris to search out chiefs in the northwest who had signed earlier treaties. In June he went to Manitoba and enlisted the help of Acheson Gosford Irvine, former commissioner of the North-West Mounted Police. Irvine was able to direct him to places where native leaders might be found. With pastels and camera he traveled from camp to camp and learned that his father and Irvine were both remembered with respect. His first portrait was of Crowfoot's favourite wife, Sisoyaki (Cutting Woman), now an old woman. He visited Blackfoot, Sarcee, Blood, and Peigan reserves in 1907, and he made another trip west the following year, during which he added portraits of Cree, Saulteaux, Assiniboin [the preferred modern spelling according to The Canadian Encyclopedia online], Stoney, and Sioux leaders.

In 1909 the Canadian Art Club held an exhibition in Toronto at which 55 portraits were displayed, together with native artifacts collected by Morris and his father, including head-dresses and articles of clothing. In an accompanying catalogue he described the tribal background of his subjects. One reviewer commented, "When first seen these portraits are criticized for the brilliance of color but when compared with the original garments, some of which Mr. Morris has hung between the groups of portraits, one sees that the artist has really been working in half tones and subdued lights." This unusual exhibition created quite a stir in the city, and Premier Whitney commissioned additional portraits for the Ontario government collection. That year the Saskatchewan government ordered 15 portraits for the legislative building under construction in Regina, and in 1910 Morris completed 5 portraits for the province of Alberta.

In all, Morris made four trips to the northwest. As he travelled among the native peoples, his understanding of their history and culture grew. He carefully recorded in his diaries the tales they told him, and he persuaded some chiefs to record their personal achievements on buffalo skins he provided. In a letter on "The Indian problem" written to the Manitoba Morning Free Press in 1910, he wondered what "we [are] reducing them to by thrusting upon them our so-called civilization."

He continued to exhibit annually with the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, of which he had been an associate since 1898, and in private galleries and to serve as secretary of the Canadian Art Club. About this time he wrote Art in Canada: the early painters ([1911?]), one of the first studies of the history of Canadian art. He was also involved in planning a monument to commemorate the signing of Treaty No. 4 at Fort Qu'Appelle (Sask.). In August 1913, overworked and possibly depressed, he went to Île d'Orléans to paint. On the 25th his body was found in the St Lawrence River near Portneuf. He was 41.

Edmund Morris is known principally for his striking portraits of native peoples, a record of the last generation to remember life before European settlement. A contemporary reviewer of his broadly handled landscapes praised the "varied and elusive manifestations of light . . . constantly shifting play of colour; the brilliant skies." More recently a critic, Geoffrey Simmins, has written of one work that it is "among the most advanced landscape paintings executed during these years by any Canadian artist." The promise shown in his landscapes was cut short by his early death.
Author: Jean S. McGill

[Below is additional information provided by Dictionary of Canadian Biography: Volume XIV, 1911 - 1920]

In addition to his book, Art in Canada: the early painters ([Toronto, 1911?]), Edmund Montague Morris's publications include several articles: "An ancient Indian fort" and "L't-Col. Irvine and the North-West Mounted Police" in Canadian Magazine, 36 (November 1910-April 1911): 256-59 and 37 (May-October 1911): 493-503, respectively; "Art in Canada: the early painters," Saturday Night, 21 Jan. 1911: 25, 29; "Early Canadian painters," Arts and Letters Club, Lamps (Toronto), 1 (1911-12), no.2: 8; and "Old lords of the soil; description of Indians living near James Bay," News (Toronto), 9 May 1907.

His letter on "The Indian problem" appears in the Manitoba Free Press, 22 Oct. 1910. Morris also prepared two catalogues for his 1909 Canadian Art Club exhibition: Canadian Art Club exhibition of Indian portraits; with notes on the tribes and Catalogue of loan collections of objects of Indian art and curios on view at the exhibition of Indian portraits by Edmund Morris, both published at Toronto in 1909.

Morris's diaries for 1886 - 1904 and for his 1906 journey to James Bay are in his papers in QUA [Queen's University Archives, Kingston, Ontario]: his western diaries are preserved in the Ethnology Dept. of the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto), and have been transcribed by Mary Fitz-Gibbon and published as The diaries of Edmund Montague Morris; western journeys, 1907-1910 (Toronto, 1985).

The Ontario government collection of Indian portraits is now in the Ethnology Dept. of the Royal Ontario Museum. Works by Morris are also held by the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa), the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), the Art Gallery of Hamilton (Hamilton, Ont.), the Glenbow Museum (Calgary), the Provincial Museum of Alberta (Edmonton), and the Sask., Legislative Building, Art Galleries (Regina). In addition, a collection of over 700 photographs of native people and the landscape taken by Morris on his western journeys is in the PAM [Provincial Archives of Manitoba].

Morris's painting is compared with that of his contemporaries and his place in the history of Canadian art is assessed in Edmund Morris, "Kyaiyii,"1871-1913, comp. Geoffrey Simmins and Michael Parke-Taylor, prepared for a major retrospective exhibition held at the Norman Mackenzie Art Gallery (Regina, 1984). This study includes a list of exhibitions of Morris's works (app.A), but no listing of his paintings by present-day holders is available.
Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography: Volume XIV, 1911 - 1920 (1998), edited by Ramsay Cook and Jean Hamelin (see AskART book references)
Additional sources:
The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction (2001), by Anthony R. Westbridge and Diana L. Bodnar (see AskART book references)

Art and Architecture in Canada (1991), by Loren R. Lerner and Mary F. Williamson (see AskART book references)

Royal Canadian Academy of Arts: Exhibitions and Members, 1880 - 1979 (1981), by Evelyn de R. McMann (see AskART book references)

The Macmillan Dictionary of Canadian Biography (1978), edited by W. A. McKay (see AskART book references)

Painting in Canada: a history (1977), by J. Russell Harper (see AskART book references)

A Dictionary of Canadian Artists: Volume 4, Little - Myles
(1974), by Colin S. MacDonald (see AskART book references)

Canadian Watercolours & Drawings in the Royal Ontario Museum (1974), by Mary Allodi (see AskART book references)

A Concise History of Canadian Painting (1973), by Dennis Reid (see AskART book references)

Creative Canada: A Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth Century Creative and Performing Arts (1972), by Helen M. Rodney (see AskART book references)

Art Gallery of Ontario - The Canadian Collection (1970), by Helen Pepall Bradfield (see AskART book references)

Canadian Art - Its Origin and Development (1943) (paperback 1967), by William Colgate (see AskART book references)

The National Gallery of Canada: Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture, Volume III (1960), by R.H. Hubbard (see AskART book references)

The Fine Arts in Canada (1925), by Newton MacTavish (see AskART book references)

Canadian Men and Women of the Time: A Handbook of Canadian Biography of Living Characters (1912), edited by Henry James Morgan (see AskART book references)

Canadian Archival Information Network (biographic information)

Canadian Heritage Information Network* (biographic information and museums)

Art Gallery of Ontario (books and catalogues)

Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art* (OSA exhibitions)

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Submitted by M.D. Silverbrooke.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at
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