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 Harold Mortimer-Lamb  (1872 - 1970)

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Lived/Active: British Columbia/Ontario / Canada/United Kingdom      Known for: portrait and figure photography, painting, moderist art writer

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The Southam Sisters , gelatin silver print , 13" x 16.125", c 1915 - 1916
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Canada Collection
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Harold Mortimer-Lamb (AKA: Harold Mortimer Lamb) was a mining executive, publisher (1), art critic, art collector, photographer and painter.  He was also the husband of Vera Weatherbie (2), the father of Molly Bobak, and a partner of John Vanderpant, all of whom can be seen in AskART.  His informed and advanced taste in art, influential connections, and financial support made him a valuable ally for many of Canada’s greatest artists at crucial early stages in their careers.

Born in Leatherhead, Surrey, England, he emigrated to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in 1889.  In 1905, he moved to Montreal to take the position as Secretary of the Canadian Mining Institute. When he retired from it in 1920, he returned to Vancouver where he lived the rest of his life.  He died in Burnaby, B.C. a municipality in the greater Vancouver area.

His greatest contribution to Canadian art was his fierce advocacy for modern artists in Canada; most famously, in Montreal Star and The Studio (a British art journal) articles, supporting the Group of Seven* (3) and Emily Carr. (See Epilogue) Both of which, now are considered icons of Canadian painting, but were either under critical attack, or in the case of Carr living in near obscurity, in the first decades of the 20th Century. His famous letter written in 1921 to Eric Brown, Director of the National Gallery of Canada, about its neglect of the West, specifically naming Carr, is a prime example of his foresight, and is referred to frequently in her biographies (4).

Quote:  “…I was exceedingly interested in the pictures, which are not only highly meritorious from an artistic standpoint, being fine in colour and broad and vigorous in treatment, but possess a real value from an anthropological aspect.” - Harold Mortimer Lamb in letter to Eric Brown  (NGC Archives 7.1 Carr, E. 24 Oct. 1921).

Quote: “So far Canadian art has been badly handicapped in every possible direction. One handicap may be removed if the newspapers will refrain from publishing the futile dogmatism of self opinionated and generally incompetent scribblers.” – Harold Mortimer-Lamb, Montreal Daily Star April 7, 1913. (5)

Now, about his art: other than writing, his medium was primarily portrait and figure photography in the style called Pictorialism*.  He partnered with Sidney Carter (6) in founding a Montreal gallery (1906) and with John Vanderpant in founding a Vancouver gallery (1926).  Both establishments and their proprietors played important roles in Canadian art history.  For more about Sidney Carter and The Little Gallery (Montreal) see footnote 6 below; for more about Vanderpant Galleries (Vancouver) see John Vanderpant in AskART.

Mortimer-Lamb's photographs were exhibited in Alfred Stieglitz’s Gallery 291* (7); with the Royal Photographic Society of England (1910) (8); in a solo show at the Vancouver Art Gallery, B.C.(1952); and in the landmark exhibition opening the new Vancouver Art Gallery, “Vancouver Art and Artists: 1931 – 1983” (1983).

He only started painting in retirement (c.1942), when he was seventy.  His painting medium was oil.  His subjects were interiors, portraits, still life*, landscapes and genre*.  His style was Fauvism*.  His paintings were exhibited in 1952 at the Vancouver Art Gallery (with his photographs), in 1971 at the Burnaby Art Gallery, B.C. , and in 1977 at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

His photographs are in the collections of the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), the Vancouver Art Gallery (B.C.), the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (B.C.) and the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa).  Several of his paintings are in the collections of the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (B.C.).

Interestingly, Mortimer-Lamb is also the subject of numerous portraits by some of British Columbia’s, and Canada’s, most famous artists.  There are examples in museum collections by Fred Amess (1909 – 1970) (AGGV), B.C. Binning (AGGV), Bruno Bobak (AGGV), E.J. Hughes (AGGV), Joe Plaskett (AGGV), John Vanderpant (AGGV), and Frederick Varley (VAG ).  Mortimer-Lamb’s wife Vera Weatherbie, had a much more famous reputation as an artist’s model, before they were married.  See her story in AskART.

Epilogue - The biography notes that Mortimer-Lamb was an early prominent supporter of Emily Carr. So, the author thought it would be  interesting to see what Emily Carr says of him in her letters (Source: "Dear Nan: Letters of Emily Carr, Nan Cheney and Humphrey Toms”, edited by Doreen Walker, see AskART book references). He is referred to many times, usually in unflattering terms; for example, after selling him a painting (1933) which she found out he sold for a profit (he was after all a dealer) she described him as an "Old Swine", other epithets of him are of a similar nature, "ear-wig" is a favorite. To put her remarks in perspective she describes Jack Shadbolt (see AskART) a famous admirer, as "a goof-nit-wit." And, of one of his shows, says, "He has a show on now which positively smells."  Had her comments been published at the time, Mortimer-Lamb would probably have classified her criticism with "the futile dogmatism of self opinionated and generally incompetent scribblers."

Footnotes:

(1) He became Secretary-Treasurer of the Provincial Mining Association of B.C.; Secretary of the Canadian Mining Institute and served on the staff of the Canadian Department of Mines.  He was founder and publisher of the Boundary Creek Times (1895); Managing Editor, B.C. Mining Record (1897 – 1904); Editor, Canadian Mining Review (1905); and author of the B.C. Government Bulletins (1902 – 1903). Source: A Dictionary of Canadian Artists (1974), by Colin S. MacDonald (see AskART book references).

(2) All artists, teachers, students, family members, influences and associates mentioned in this biography and its footnotes, except those with bracketed birth and death dates after their names, have their own pages in AskART.

(3) Mortimer-Lamb’s name and excerpts from his writings are noted 18 times throughout The Group of Seven: Art for a Nation (1995) by Charles C. Hill; further references to his support of the G7 can be found in A Canadian Art Movement: the Story of the Group of Seven (1926), by F.B. Housser, and in A Painter's Country – The Autobiography of A.Y. Jackson (1958), by A.Y. Jackson (see AskART book references).

(4) Sources: “…Carr’s sudden transformation from obscure eccentric to national icon can be seen in all works dated after 1927 — the year she was ‘discovered’ by National Gallery director Eric Brown through the prompting of noted Quebec folklorist Marius Barbeau [1883 – 1969] and art critic Harold Mortimer Lamb.” – Wayne Larsen, Westmount Examiner (Montreal) in a July 9, 2007 review of “Emily Carr – New Perspectives on a Canadian Icon”, at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.  References to him are also in: Emily Carr: A Biography (1979), by Maria Tippet; The Art of Emily Carr (1979), by Doris Shadbolt; and The Laughing One - A Journey to Emily Carr (2001) by Susan Crean (See AskART book references).

(5) A response to a critical attack on Canadian Post-Impressionist* artists John Lyman and Randolph Hewton.

(6) Sidney Robert Carter (b.1880 Toronto –  d.1956 Montreal), was a leading proponent of the Pictorialism* movement in Canada.  He was elected to Alfred Stieglitz’s Photo-Secession* group (1904) and organized an international exhibition of pictorial photographs at the Art Association of Montreal (now Montreal Museum of Fine Arts) in 1907.  His photograph of Rudyard Kipling is in the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Accession Number 33.43.333). Source: Sidney Carter (1880 – 1956) and the Politics of Pictorialism, by David Calvin Strong; 1994 Masters Thesis, Concordia University, Montreal. http://spectrum.library.concordia.ca/78/

(7) Source: March 1977 catalogue for Mortimer-Lamb exhibition at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, by Colin Graham.

(8.1) Source: Important Moments in Canadian Art History, compiled by Dr. Robert J. Belton, University of British Columbia http://web.ubc.ca/okanagan/creative/links/timeline/1918.html

(8.2) He was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in 1938.

* 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.
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