1847 (London, England)
1926 (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
Ontario / Canada
Often Known For
mountains, marine and coastal scene painting, teaching
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|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Robert Ford Gagen RCA, OSA, CSPWC (AKA: R.F. Gagen) was a prominent Canadian landscape and seascape painter. He was also an educator, a leader in the artist community, and a charter member of the Ontario Society of Artists* and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts*. Most Canadian art history books discuss his influence and work; and examples of his paintings and hand colored photographs are in numerous museums.|
He was born in London, England and came to Canada with his parents in 1862. They settled in Seaforth, Ontario (about 100 miles west of Toronto); he later moved to Toronto where he lived for the rest of his life and died. (1)
His primary medium was watercolor; however there are works in oil and early in his career he painted hand colored photographs. He was best known for his images of the Rocky Mountains; the Maritime Provinces; Gloucester, Massachusetts; and the coast of Maine. His subjects also included harbors, fishing boats, sailboats, shipbuilding, farms, portraits, still life and genre*. His style was Realism*. AskART has excellent illustrations of his work. (2)
Gagen’s art education includes studies in Seaforth under William Cresswell (see AskART) and in Toronto under John A. Fraser (see AskART), with whom he worked for nine years (1873 – 1882) painting miniatures and hand colored photographs at Notman and Fraser Photographic Studio. Later, Gagen taught at Central Ontario School of Art and was on the council of its successor, the Ontario College of Art. (3) Both institutions are predecessors of the Ontario College of Art and Design University.*
Gagen’s travels include the Rocky Mountains (in 1890 and on other occasions), the Bahamas, England, Scotland, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Maine and Massachusetts. (4)
He was a founder of the Ontario Society of Artists* (1872) and its Secretary (1889 – 1926); a charter member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts* (ARCA – 1880; RCA – 1914) and a member of its council; a charter member of the Arts and Letters Club, Toronto* (1908) and its President (1918 – 1920); and a founder of Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour* (1925) and its President (1925 – 1926). He was also the Commissioner of Fine Arts for the Canadian National Exhibition from 1912 to 1926. (5)
He exhibited with the Ontario Provincial Exhibition, Hamilton (1868); the Ontario Society Of Artists (1873 – 1926); the spring shows of the Art Association of Montreal [now Montreal Museum of Fine Arts] (1880 – 1910); the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (1881 – 1925); the Toronto Industrial Exhibition [now Canadian National Exhibition] (1881 – 1902); and with the Central Canadian Exhibition, Ottawa (1926). (6)
During his life and posthumously, his works were included in several landmark Canadian exhibitions and important international expositions such as the “World’s Columbian Exposition”*, Chicago (1893); “Pan-American Exposition”*, Buffalo, New York (1901); “Louisiana Purchase Exposition”*, St. Louis, Missouri (1904); “British Empire Exposition”, Wembley, England (1924 and 1925); “A Century of Canadian Art”, Tate Gallery, London, England (1938); and “Fifty Years of Painting in Canada”, Art Gallery of Toronto (1949).
Gagen’s works are very actively traded on the Canadian auction market, they are in numerous private collections, and they are in several important public collections.
According to the Canadian Heritage Information Network* and individual museum websites, there are Robert Ford Gagen works in the permanent collections of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (B.C.), Art Gallery of Hamilton (Ontario), Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (Halifax), Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), Canadian Museum of Civilization (Gatineau, Quebec), Canadian War Museum (Ottawa), Confederation Centre Art Gallery & Museum (Charlottetown, P.E.I.), Glenbow Museum (Calgary, Alberta), Mackenzie Art Gallery (Regina, Saskatchewan), McCord Museum of Canadian History (Montreal), Museum London (Ontario), Ottawa Art Gallery (Ontario), The Market Gallery (Toronto), Vancouver Art Gallery (B.C.), Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies (Banff, Alberta) and the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa).
(1) Source: Art Gallery of Ontario – The Canadian Collection (1970), by Helen Pepall Bradfield (see AskART book references). Please note: all our sources agree on the places of his birth and death, though some have a birth year of 1848. The Canadian Heritage Information Network* as well as most books published since 1970, like the one noted above, use 1847.
(2) Sources: Art Gallery of Ontario – The Canadian Collection (1970), by Helen Pepall Bradfield (see AskART book references); AskART Images; and museum illustrations and descriptions of mediums in the Canadian Heritage Information Network* data base.
(3.1) Education sources: The Fine Arts in Canada (1925), by Newton MacTavish; Canadian Art - Its Origin and Development (1943) (paperback 1967), by William Colgate; The National Gallery of Canada: Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture, Volume III (1960), by R.H. Hubbard; A Dictionary of Canadian Artists (1974), by Colin S. MacDonald; and The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction (2001), by Anthony R. Westbridge and Diana L. Bodnar (see all in AskART book references).
(3.2) A Dictionary of Canadian Artists and The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction also have a G. Gilbert as a Gagan teacher in Toronto. Their source is footnoted as A Standard Dictionary of Canadian Biography: The Canadian Who Was Who 1875 – 1933 (1934), editors Charles G.D. Roberts and Arthur L. Tunnell; Volume 1, page 205; however, no other source includes a G. Gilbert as a teacher of Gagen. The only G. Gilbert listed by the Canadian Heritage Information Network* is Grove Sheldon Gilbert (see AskART); however, while he did paint in Toronto, he left for Rochester, New York in 1834 and we could find no record of his returning to Toronto. There may of course be another G. Gilbert. Sources for Grove Sheldon Gilbert: Appleton's Cyclopædia of American Biography, Volume 2 (1888), edited by James Grant Wilson and John Fiske (published by D. Appleton and Company); and Who Was Who in American Art (1999), by Peter Hastings Falk (published by Sound View Press).
(3.3) William Cresswell was also an early teacher of George Agnew Reid (see AskART); and Gagen was a teacher of Horatio Walker (see AskART), while they were both at Notman Studios. Sources: Page 19, Canadian Art - Its Origin and Development (1943) (paperback 1967), by William Colgate; and page 202, Painting in Canada: a History (1966), by J. Russell Harper (see AskART book references).
(3.4) Gagen is the author of the chapter titled “History of Art Societies in Ontario” in volume 4 (pages 360 – 365) of Canada: An Encyclopaedia of the Country (1898), edited by John Castell Hopkins (see AskART book references). He is also the author of the unpublished Ontario Art Chronicle (c.1918). Source: Archives of Ontario.
(4) Travel source: The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction (2001), by Anthony R. Westbridge and Diana L. Bodnar (see AskART book references).
(5) Association sources: Early Painters and Engravers in Canada (1970), by J. Russell Harper; Art Gallery of Ontario – The Canadian Collection (1970), by Helen Pepall Bradfield; and Passionate Spirits: A History of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, 1880 – 1980 (1980), by Rebecca Sisler (see all in AskART book references).
(6.1) Exhibition sources: The National Gallery of Canada: Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture, Volume III (1960), by R.H. Hubbard; Early Painters and Engravers in Canada (1970), by J. Russell Harper; "Art Gallery of Ontario – The Canadian Collection (1970), by Helen Pepall Bradfield; Royal Canadian Academy of Arts: Exhibitions and Members, 1880 – 1979; and Montreal Museum of Fine Arts: Spring Exhibitions 1880 – 1970 (see all in AskART book references).
(6.2) Examples of his work in the Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery of Canada have provenances indicating the paintings were exhibited at the Canadian National Exhibition (Toronto) in 1912, 1917 and 1950. Unfortunately, a complete list of Gagen’s CNE exhibition entries could not be located.
(6.3) Gagen died on the 2nd March, 1926; the Art Gallery of Toronto [now Art Gallery of Ontario] held a memorial exhibition of his works from April 16 to May 2 of that year.
Background source: Biographical Index of Artists in Canada (2003), by Evelyn de Rostaing McMann (see AskART book references).
* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see AskART.com. Glossary http://www.askart.com/AskART/lists/Art_Definition.aspx.
Prepared and contributed by M.D. Silverbrooke.
|** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.|