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