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 Frederick S. Barnjum  (1838/1839 - 1881)

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Lived/Active: Quebec / Canada/England      Known for: realist figure, genre, landscape, marine, rural scene painting

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Ad Code: 3
Frederick Barnjum
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Frederick S. Barnjum (1838/1839 – 1888) (1)

A colonial and post-colonial Canadian painter, Frederick S. Barnjum was born in Suffolk, England. He immigrated to Montreal, Canada in 1859, where he lived the rest of his life and died. Barnjum is primarily known as the first physical education instructor at McGill University, Montreal, and as the founder of “The Montreal Gymnasium Club”, home of what developed into the Montreal Amateur Athletics Association, Canada’s first organization to administer sport founded in 1881. He was also a major in the Prince of Wales Regiment and a veteran of the Fenian Raids of 1866 and 1870. Fifty-two of his paintings and drawings are in Canadian museums. (2)(3)(4)

His mediums were oil, watercolor, gouache, pen & ink, and frequently mixtures of the last three on blue wove paper. His subjects included figures, genre*, landscapes, city scenes, market scenes, rural scenes, snow scenes, marine scenes, and winter activities (e.g. horse drawn sleigh, tobogganing, ice-cutting, etc.). His style was Realism*.

None of our sources discuss Barnjum’s art education or, for that matter, any other education. Robert Tait McKenzie (see “Frederick S. Barnjum and his Work”) mentions only that, in England, Barnjum’s “…early life was one of leisure. His chief recreations were drawing, painting, and horsemanship, of which he was passionately fond, and his reputation as a marksman and daring cross-country rider became more than local.” McKenzie adds that Barnjum came to Montreal “… to start life as an artist.” Barnjum described himself as an “artist” in the Montreal directories from the time of his arrival until 1866 and thereafter as a “professor of physical culture”. He taught physical education at McGill University from 1862 until his death. His two most well-known McGill students were Dr. Robert Tait McKenzie (see AskART) and James Naismith, the subsequent inventor of the game of basketball and Barnjum’s successor at McGill. (5)(6)

According to the Canadian Heritage Information Network* and individual museum websites, Barnjum’s works are in the permanent collections of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, B.C. [3]; the Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Ontario [29]; the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto [6]; and the Vancouver Art Gallery, B.C. [14]. (7)
(1) Please note: Most sources list 1858 – 1887 as Barnjum life dates, indicating they are the dates he flourished as an artist. The Library and Archives Canada uses Barnjum life dates of “1838/1839 – 1888-05-16”.

(2) Barnjum is described as “a legendary figure in physical education in Canada” by Rob Rains and Hellen Carpenter in their book James Naismith: The Man who Invented Basketball [page 19] (see AskART book references).

(3) Please note: All of Barnjum’s dated works, in museums and in AskART auction results, have dates before or shortly after he joined McGill, which places their creation in the Canadian colonial era (Canada was founded in 1867); none have inscribed dates after 1864. This is not surprising as Robert Tait McKenzie (see Frederick S. Barnjum and his Work) describes Barnjum as a man who became totally absorbed in promoting physical fitness from the early 1860s until the day he died. Additional sources: Canadian Heritage Information Network*, Library and Archives Canada, Royal Ontario Museum, and AskART auction results.

(4) Please note: Barnjum joined the Prince of Wales Regiment with the rank of Lieutenant on October 29, 1867; he was promoted to Captain on August 12, 1870; and to Major on February 25, 1876. He was discharged with the rank of Major on February 23, 1877. Source: The Origin and Services of the Prince of Wales Regiment (see AskART book references).

(5) Excerpt source: Frederick S. Barnjum and his Work, by R. Tait McKenzie (see sources).

(6) Details of his death: In the summer of 1888, Barnjum collapsed and died suddenly while gardening. He had a wife and three children. After his death, his sister took over instruction of the women’s gymnastics classes at McGill and, as noted above, James Naismith assumed the rest of Barnjum’s teaching duties. Sources: Ibid; and Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction of the Province of Quebec for the Year 1888 – 89 (see AskART book references).

(7) Illustrations of the six works in the Royal Ontario Museum can be viewed online by entering “Barnjum” at the following link: Illustrations of sixteen works in the Library and Archives Canada can be viewed online by entering “Frederick S. Barnjum” at the following link:
James Naismith: The Man who Invented Basketball (2009), by Rob Rains and Hellen Carpenter (see AskART book references)

Biographical Index of Artists in Canada (2003), by Evelyn de Rostaing McMann (see AskART book references)

The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction (2001), by Anthony R. Westbridge and Diana L. Bodnar (see AskART book references)

The World of William Notman: The Nineteenth Century through a Master Lens (1993), by Gordon Dodds, Roger Hall and Stanley Triggs (see AskART book references)

The Canadian Encyclopedia (1985), edited by James H. Marsh (see AskART book references) [under Physical Education]

Early Painters and Engravers in Canada (1970), by J. Russell Harper (see AskART book references)

The Origin and Services of the Prince of Wales Regiment (1897), edited by Captain Ernest J. Chambers (see AskART book references)

Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction of the Province of Quebec for the Year 1888 – 89 (1890), by Gedeon Ouimet (see AskART book references)

Annual Calendar of McGill College and University, Montreal 1885 – 1886 (1885), McGill College and University (see AskART book references)

Frederick S. Barnjum and his Work, by R. Tait McKenzie, Montreal; American Physical Education Review, Volume 2, Issue 2, 1897 – Link to article:;view=1up;seq=225

The Army List, November 1875, Great Britain, Ministry of Defence (pg. 829) [military record]

Canadian Heritage Information Network* [museums]

The Canadian Encyclopedia (online) [Montreal Amateur Athletics Association]

Library and Archives Canada [life-dates and illustrations]

McGill University Library Information Service [“Frederick S. Barnjum and his Work”]

McGill University website [The History of McGill Athletics]

McCord Museum of Canadian History [photos of Barnjum]

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Written 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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