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William Brymner

 (1857 - 1925)
William Brymner was active/lived in Quebec, Ontario / Canada, Australia, Scotland.  William Brymner is known for landscape, portrait and figure painting, teaching.

William Brymner

Biography from the Archives of askART

William Brymner was a painter, draftsman, muralist, illustrator and very influential Canadian art educator.  He was born in Greenlock, Scotland.  In 1857 his family emigrated to Melbourne, Quebec, 100 miles east of Montreal.  They moved to Montreal in 1864, and then to Ottawa, Ontario in 1872.  Montreal was, again, his home in 1886 and for the rest of his life.  He died while visiting Wallasey, Cheshire, England.
His mediums were oil, watercolour, charcoal, pastel, ink, graphite, and mixed mediums.  His subjects were figures in landscape, landscapes, nudes, interiors, figures, genre and portraits.  The locations of the landscapes include the St. Lawrence River valley, the Canadian Rockies, Nova Scotia, the Blackfoot Indian Reserve (Gleichen, Alberta), the Selkirk Mountains (British Columbia), Italy, England, France and Belgium.

He is considered one of the Canadian pioneers of Impressionism*.  His works are noted for their draftsmanship, formal harmony, technical excellence, sensual colour, intimacy and atmospherics*.

In Europe his sketching companions included Frederick Brown, Frederick William Jackson, James Macdonald Barnsley and James Kerr-Lawson; in Canada they included James Wilson Morrice and Maurice Cullen (see all in AskART).

Brymner first studied architecture and drafting in Montreal (1871) and in Ottawa (1874).  In 1878, he went to Paris to help install a Canadian government display at the Universal Exposition (1).  However, shortly after he arrived, he became more interested in painting and he decided to stay.  He studied at the Academie Julian * (1878 - 1880,1883 -1885 and 1889) under William Bouguereau, Tony Robert-Fleury, Jules-Joseph Lefebvre and Gustave Boulanger (see all in AskART).  While in Paris, he also studied with Charles François Pinot (1817-1879) and Charles Durand (AKA: Carolus-Duran) (1879) (see AskART), and took anatomy courses at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts* (1879).
His teaching resume includes headmaster at the Ottawa Art School (1880 - 1882) but, it is his long term as Director of the School at the Art Association Of Montreal (2) (1886 -1921) where his influence on painting in Canada becomes greatly magnified.  His students there went on to become some of Canada's greatest artists and art teachers.  They include A.Y. Jackson, Clarence Gagnon, Prudence Heward, John Young Johnstone, Edwin Holgate, Ethel Seath, Anne Savage, Emily Coonan, Marian Scott, Mabel May, Robert Pilot, Kathleen Moir Morris, Arthur George Racey, Helen Galloway McNicoll and Randolph Stanley Hewton (see all in AskART).

Quote: " (Brymner) was no radical, but he encouraged his students to be independent. . . . Among his fellow academicians* he would stand for no intolerance or injustice toward the younger artists." - A. Y. Jackson

In addition to his travels to further his education, Brymer also travelled to England (1883, 1884); Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec (1885); Killarney, Ireland (1891); the Canadian Rockies and Alberta (1892, 1993); Venice, Italy (1901, 1902); Martigues, France (1908); and Nova Scotia (1909, 1910, 1912 and 1914).  After retirement, in 1921, he and his wife spent most of their time traveling in France, Italy and England.
He was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Artists (ARCA 1986, RCA 1886) and its President (1909 - 1917); a member of the Pen and Pencil Club of Montreal (1890) and its President (1893); and a member of the Arts Club of Montreal (1912) and its President (1916 -1917).  He was also a member of the Ontario Society of Artists (1886); a founding member of the Montreal Water Colour Society (1889); and a member of the Canadian Art Club, Toronto (1908 - 1915).
He exhibited with the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts from 1882 to 1920 and with the Art Association of Montreal from 1883 to 1921.  He also exhibited at the Paris Salon* (May 1885), in the "Colonial and Indian Exhibition" (London, England - 1886), in the "Chicago Exposition" (1893)*, the  "Pan-American Exhibition" (Buffalo, NY - 1901), and the "Louisiana Purchase Exposition" * (St. Louis - 1904).  He also had solo exhibitions at the Arts Club of Montreal in 1916 and 1921.
Posthumously, his works have been included in several exhibitions, notably: "Works by Senior Painters in Canada" (Art Gallery of Toronto - 1937) (3), "Eleven Artists in Montreal 1860 - 1960" (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts - 1960), "Three Hundred Years of Canadian Art" (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa -1967), "Scottish Painting of Canada" (Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax - 1978),  "Canadian Artists in Venice" (Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston, Ontario - 1979) and "The Canadian Art Club, 1907-1915" (Edmonton Art Gallery, Alberta - 1988). In 1979 the Agnes Etherington Art Centre also had "William Brymner, 1855 - 1925: a retrospective".
Recently (2009), his works are included in "Expanding Horizons: Painting and Landscape Photography of American and Canadian Landscape 1860 -1918" organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and showing in Vancouver, B.C. from October 17, 2009 to January 17, 2010.  The Agnes Etherington Art Centre is also working on a major exhibition of his work scheduled for 2010.
His works are avidly collected.  They are also in many public collections including, the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, the Art Gallery of Hamilton (Ontario), the Beaverbrook Art Gallery (Fredericton, New Brunswick), the McCord Museum of Canadian History (Montreal), the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Quebec Museum of Fine Arts (Quebec City), the Owens Art Gallery (Sackville, New Brunswick), the Winnipeg Art Gallery (Manitoba), the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (B.C.), the Ottawa Art Gallery (Ontario) and the National Gallery of Canada which has 19 of his works.
Examples of his illustrations can be found in the books Shanty, Forest and River Life in the Backwoods of Canada (1883), by Joshua Fraser, published by John Lovell & Son, Montreal (361pgs); and in Bonhomme: French Canadian stories and sketches (1899), by Henry Cecil Walsh, published by W. Briggs, Toronto (252 pgs).
As of 2000, his murals for the former Charles E. L. Porteous home on Île d'Orléans, Quebec remained in situ.  Photographs of them are in the book A National Soul: Canadian Mural Painting, 1860s - 1930s (2002), by Marylin Jean McKay, published by McGill - Queens University Press (320 pgs, some colour).

His awards include appointment as a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (1916) (4); the Jesse Dow Prize (1915) from the Art Association of Montreal; the Gold Medal from the 1901 Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo; and the Silver Medal from the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition* in St. Louis.

(1) At the time he was a draftsman in the Department of Public Works, attached to the office of the chief architect, Thomas Seaton Scott (1826 - 1895).
(2) The AAM became the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1948.
(3) Renamed the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1966.
(4) The CMG would have been conferred by the King, at the time, mostly on officials in colonial affairs, foreign-service officers and diplomats, and others who have performed important duties in the British Empire. The Order still exists in Britain however, since 1967 the Order of Canada MC would most likely be given to similar deserving Canadians.
* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see AskART Glossary
Prepared and contributed by M.D. Silverbrooke

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

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About  William Brymner

Born:  1857 - Greenlock, Scotland
Died:   1925 - Wallasey, Cheshire, England
Known for:  landscape, portrait and figure painting, teaching