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 Harry Britton  (1878 - 1958)

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Lived/Active: Ontario/Nova Scotia / Canada/England      Known for: marine, landscape, figure, and portrait painting, teaching

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Harry Britton RCA, OSA (1878 – 1958)

‘Harry Britton, in my estimation, was the best marine artist Canada ever had.’ – A.J. Casson, November 27,1988 (1)

A prominent Canadian painter and influential educator, Harry Britton was born in Cambridge, England and died in Toronto, Ontario where he had lived most of his life. (2)

His mediums included oil, watercolor and pastels. His best known subjects were fishermen, harbors, marine and coastal scenes; but he also did landscapes, snowscapes, figures, portraits and genre*. The painting locations included Ontario, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Cornwall, France, Italy, and the Netherlands. His styles were Impressionism*, Plein Air* and Realism*. AskART have some excellent illustrations of his work. (3)

Britton’s art education includes seven years of intermittent study in Toronto under Farquhar McGillivray Knowles (1902 to 1908); and three years of study in London, England, first at the Heatherley School of Fine Art* (1908 – 1909) then at the London Art School (c.1909 – 1911). (4)

His teaching career began with giving classes in St. Ives, Cornwall * (c. 1911 – 1914); he also taught privately in Toronto from 1914 to 1921. His students there included future Group of Seven* member A.J. Casson (1916 – 1918) and American cartoonist Richard D. Taylor (c.1914). (5)

Britton was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts* (Associate – 1908, Academician – 1934) and an occasional member of the Ontario Society of Artists (1907 – 1909 and 1915 – 1921). (6)

He exhibited regularly (44 times) with the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts between 1905 and 1946; and with the Art Association of Montreal [now Montreal Museum of Fine Arts] between 1909 and 1919. He also exhibited in St. Ives (1912); at Jenkins' Art Galleries, Toronto (1921); and with his wife artist Henrietta Hancock Britton at the T. Eaton Company, Toronto (1926). (7)

Britton’s works are frequently traded on the Canadian auction market, they are in numerous private collections, and examples are in several Canadian museum collections.

According to the Canadian Heritage Information Network* and individual museum websites, there are Harry Britton works in the permanent collections of the Art Gallery of Hamilton (Ontario), Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (Halifax), Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), Canadian War Museum (Ottawa), McCord Museum of Canadian History (Montreal), Museum London (Ontario), and the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa).
(1.1) Source: Page 11, Sunday Morning with Cass: Conversations with A.J. Casson (1993), by Ted Herriott (see AskART book references). Note: A.J. Casson was the last surviving member of the Group of Seven*; Britton’s teaching methods are discussed by Casson, a student and admirer of Britton, on page 11 and elsewhere in the book.  They are also discussed at some length on pages 35, 37 and 38 of Paul Duval’s A.J. Casson / His Life & Works/ A Tribute; in fact the first line of the book is “Harry Britton was a good painter.” (see AskART book references).

(1.2) Casson’s obituary in the Daily Telegraph describes Britton as, “a crucial influence in making him [Casson] see that paintings did not simply entail copying and the accumulation of facts.” Source: Page 25, Canada from Afar: The Daily Telegraph Book of Canadian Obituaries (1996), by David Twiston Davies (see AskART book references).

(1.3) Please note: All artists mentioned in this biography and its footnotes have their own pages in AskART.

(2) Britton’s places of residence: Cambridge, England  (1878 – 1881); Toronto, Ontario (c. 1881 – 1908, 1914 – 1921, 1934 – 1958); London, England (c. 1908 – 1911); St Ives, Cornwall (c.1911 – 1914); England, France, the Netherlands and Italy (1921 – 1925); and Nova Scotia (1926 – 1934). Sources: Canadian Heritage Information Network*; and Creative Canada: A Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth Century Creative and Performing Arts (1972), by Helen M. Rodney (see AskART book references).

(3) Sources: AskART Images; and museum illustrations and descriptions of mediums in the Canadian Heritage Information Network* data base.

(4) Sources: The Fine Arts in Canada (1925), by Newton MacTavish; The National Gallery of Canada: Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture, Volume III (1960), by R.H. Hubbard; and Art Gallery of Ontario – The Canadian Collection (1970), by Helen Pepall Bradfield (see AskART book references).

(5) Sources: Ibid; The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction (2001), by Anthony R. Westbridge and Diana L. Bodnar; and The World Encyclopedia of Cartoons (1998), edited by Maurice Horn (see AskART book references).

(6) Sources: Art Gallery of Ontario – The Canadian Collection (1970), by Helen Pepall Bradfield; and Passionate Spirits: A History of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, 1880 – 1980 (1980), by Rebecca Sisler (see AskART book references).

(7.1) Sources: Royal Canadian Academy of Arts: Exhibitions and Members, 1880 – 1979 (1981), by Evelyn de R. McMann; Montreal Museum of Fine Arts: Spring Exhibitions 1880 – 1970 (1988), by Evelyn de R. McMann; The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction (2001), by Anthony R. Westbridge and Diana L. Bodnar; Canadian Women Artists History Initiative*; St. Ives Times March 22, 1912; Cornwall Artist Index (online); and the Art Gallery of Ontario (catalogue summaries online).

(7.2) He met his wife Henrietta Hancock when she was a student of his in St. Ives. Sources: Canadian Women Artists History Initiative*; and A Dictionary of Canadian Artists (1974), by Colin S. MacDonald (see AskART book references).

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