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Robert Whale

 (1805 - 1887)
Robert Reginald Whale was active/lived in Ontario, New Hampshire / Canada, England.  Robert Whale is known for landscape and portrait painting.

Robert Whale

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Robert Whale
Robert Reginald Whale was a painter.  He was born in Alternun, Cornwall, England; he emigrated to Burford, Ontario, Canada in 1852.  He moved to Brantford, Ontario in 1864, where he lived for the rest of his life and died. (1)
His primary medium was oil paint.  His subjects were portraits, landscapes, wildlife, genre, still life, and historic events.  The landscape and genre locations were in Ontario and the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  Many of his most popular views (best sellers) were repeatedly reproduced by him in varying degrees of quality, sometimes with small variations of elements.  For example, one of his most famous images, Niagara Falls, with a train in the foreground, was painted many times by Whale, in different sizes and sometimes with different trains, over a period of decades (3).  His mature work is in a romantic representational style, most likely, derived from his studies of Reynolds, Gainsborough and Constable.  Like their works, his landscapes are idealized scenes, identified by rich colours, drama, expansive views, complexity, atmospherics, sentimentality, and a sense contemplation.
Largely self taught, he learned to paint by studying and copying the paintings of eighteenth century English masters (noted above) at Lord Saville's house in Okehampton, England (4) and on visits to the National Gallery, London.
His travels from Canada include visits to England in 1870 and 1872 (see footnote 1), and to the White Mountains of New Hampshire in the last decade of his life.  He also travelled extensively in western Ontario earning his living as an itinerate artist, doing portraits and landscapes, exhibiting in contests and selling his paintings at country fairs.
In 1848 he was elected an associate member of the Royal Academy (England); in 1871 he was a founding member of the Ontario Society of Artists (OSA); and in 1881 he was elected an associate of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (RCA).
He exhibited with the OSA from 1873 to 1882 and with the RCA from 1881 to 1886. In addition, he showed at the Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto (1853 -1869); at the London International Exhibition (1862); and at the Ontario Provincial Exhibition, Hamilton (1868).  He also exhibited his multimedia Indian Mutiny panorama, throughout Ontario at county fairs in 1864. (2)
Posthumously, his works have been included in, and the subject of several exhibitions, among them "Canadian Painting 1850 - 1950" at the National Gallery of Canada and travelling to several museum locations across Canada (1967); "Three Hundred Years of Canadian Art" at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (1967); "Canadian Landscape Painting 1670 -1930" organized by the National Gallery of Canada for a tour of the U.S.A. (1973); "The Ontario Community Collects" at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (1975); a "Survey of Canadian Painting" at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Ontario (1977); "People: An Exhibition of Historical and Contemporary Portraits and Pictures of People" at Museum London, Ontario (1977); "An Introduction of Robert Whale" at Glenhyrst Art Gallery of Brant, Brantford, Ontario (1984); and "Figures in a Landscape: The Art of Robert Reginald Whale (1805-1887)" at the Art Gallery of Hamilton (1996).
His works are avidly collected. They are also in several public collections including The Art Gallery of Hamilton, the GlenHyrst Art Gallery of Brant, Museum London, the McCord Museum of Canadian History (Montreal), the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (B.C.), the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto), the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Quebec),and the National Gallery of Canada.
(1) After his wife died in 1871, he took an extended visit of 4 years in England, returning to Brantford in 1876.
(2) In 1857, the Sepoy troops of the British army in Bengal mutinied because their Hindu and Moslem soldiers were being severely punished for refusing to use new rifle cartridges, which were smeared with the fat of cows and pigs (repulsive to both Hindus and Moslems).  The thirteen month rebellion included several atrocities. Whale's panorama depicting them was accompanied by a narrative. Viewing it cost six pence. Quote: "The show was like a combined horror movie, television thriller, and news documentary." - J. Russell Harper, page 117 of  "Painting in Canada: a history" (see book references).
(3) Whale had two sons, John Claude (1852 -1905) and Robert Heard (see AskART) and a nephew John Hicks Whale (1829-1905); all of whom were professional artists painting similar images, including the Niagara Falls scene with the train.
(4) Source: "Whale family fonds" National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives.
Prepared and contributed by M.D. Silverbrooke

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About  Robert Whale

Born:  1805 - Alternum, Cornwall, England
Died:   1887 - Brantford, Ontario, Canada
Known for:  landscape and portrait painting