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 Miller Gore Brittain  (1912 - 1968)

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Lived/Active: New Brunswick / Canada      Known for: social realism easel and mural painting, graphics

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Ad Code: 3
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The Rummage Sale, oil on masonite, 25" x 20", dated 1940
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Canada
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Miller Gore Brittain (1) was a painter, muralist and graphic artist.  He was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada where, other than for education and war service, he lived his whole life and died.

His mediums were oil, colored pencil, egg tempera*, gouache, pastel, charcoal, graphite, Conte Crayon*, watercolor, serigraph*, lithograph*, etching*, pen and ink and mixed mediums.  His subjects were social commentary, social realism, the Bible, religion, satire, figures, nudes, urban life, still life, war, genre*, allegory*, mysticism and portraits.  His styles were Expressionism*, Surrealism*, Symbolism* and Realism*.

Quote: “One experiences life and reacts to it in a variety of ways.  I must try to find the right way. That is my aim in art and life and my work embodies the struggle.  The beauty of the drama of inanimate nature moves me deeply, but the trials, the errors, the absurd antics, and the triumphs of Everyman affect me more . . . I quarrel with non-objective painting which seems to me to stop half-way by not joining hands with the natural world and man's experience.  I believe that all thoughts and feelings are grist to the painter's mill and hate and fear as well as love have been my themes when I have felt them. Are the non-objective boys too pure to come to terms with nasty humanity?” - Miller Brittain (1949)

Brittain took art classes with Elizabeth Russell Holt (d.1971) in Saint John, New Brunswick (1922 - 1929); at the Saint John Vocational School (c. 1926-1930); and at the Art Students League of New York (1930 - 1932) under Harry Wickey (see AskART).  His work is also much influenced by William Blake’s (see AskART) paintings and poetry (The Tyger) (2) and by William Gropper`s satire (see both in AskART).

Quote: “This led me to ponder the problems of good and evil.  I contemplated the inner conflict that is part of Everyman and tried to incorporate into my work such abstract qualities as love, despair, terror, and so on, since they are the inevitable experience of Everyman, and I felt they should be faced and dealt with rather than shrunk from.” - Miller Brittain (1949)

He was a member of the Canadian Society of Graphic Art* (1937) and a member of the Contemporary Arts Society (1942 -1948).  He also attended the Kingston Conference* in 1941 (3), and was a founding member of the Federation of Canadian Artists* (1941).  During World War II, Brittain served with the RCAF as a flight lieutenant with the RAF bomber command. He was appointed a War Artist after completing his combat duties (4).

In addition to exhibiting with the above artist organizations his works have been included in numerous public venue shows including “Five New Brunswick Artists” at the Art Gallery of Toronto, Ontario (1955) (5); “Nine New Brunswick Artists” at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton, New Brunswick (1973) (6); “Canadian Painting in the Thirties” at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (1975); “A Terrible Beauty: The Art of Canada at War” at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, Ontario and touring (1977); “The Contemporary Arts Society: 1939 - 1948” at the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art  (1981); “Canvas of War: Painting the Canadian Experience, 1914 to 1945” at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Gatineau, Quebec and touring (2001); “Defining the Portrait” at the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Concordia University, Montreal (2001); and in “New Brunswick Collects” at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery (2005).
Brittain had his first major solo exhibition at the New Brunswick Museum, Saint John in 1949. Solo and retrospective exhibitions of his work at public venues since then include: “Drawings and Pastels: 1930 - 1967 by Miller Gore Brittain” at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery (1968); “Miller Brittain: In Memoriam.  An exhibition commemorating the tenth Anniversary of the death of Miller G. Brittain” at Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia (1978); and “God, Man and the Devil: Paintings and Drawings by Miller Gore Brittain” at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery (1998).
On January 3, 2010 the touring show “Miller Brittain: When the Stars Threw Down Their Spears”, organized by the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in 2007, completed its three month stay at the National Gallery of Canada.

His works are avidly collected. They are also in numerous public collections including the Art Gallery of Alberta (Edmonton), the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (B.C.), the Art Gallery of Hamilton (Ontario), the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Confederation Centre Art Gallery & Museum (Charlottetown, P.E.I.), the Robert McLaughlin Gallery (Oshawa, Ontario), the Owens Art Gallery (Sackville, N.B.), the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery (Concordia University, Montreal), the Ottawa Art Gallery (Ontario), the Mendel Art Gallery (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (Halifax), the Winnipeg Art Gallery (Manitoba), the Vancouver Art Gallery (B.C.), the Beaverbrook Art Gallery (Fredericton, N.B.) and the Canadian War Museum (Ottawa). The National Gallery of Canada has 38 Miller Gore Brittain works in its collection.

Examples of his murals can be seen in Saint John at the Convent of the Good Shepherd and in Fredericton at the Lady Beaverbrook Gymnasium.

As an important Canadian artist his work is illustrated and discussed in most books about Canadian art history and Canadian modern art.  There are also the monographs “Miller Brittain: In Focus” (1982) by Alex Mogelon and “Miller Brittain: When the Stars Threw Down Their Spears” (2007) by Tom Smart done in conjunction with the Beaverbrook Art Gallery exhibition of the same name.

(1) He signed his work "MGB" with a two digit date.  See AskART signature examples.

(2) “…on his bombing missions he carried William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience with him.  Blake's poetry, particularly The Tyger, (The Tiger) inspired the pervasive motif of Brittain's later career.”  “His experiences during the war led to the development of three symbolic devices and motifs that were often repeated in his post-war work: the radiant burst, the vertical shaft or spear, and a trailing plume.”  Source: Miller Brittain: When the Stars Threw Down Their Spears (2007), by Tom Smart (see AskART book references and image examples).

Excerpt from William Blake's The Tyger
“When the stars threw down their spears
And watered heaven with their tears:
Did he smile His work to see?
Did he who made the lamb make thee?”

(3) The 1941 conference of Canadian Artists held at Queens University, Kingston, Ontario (June 26-28) under the auspices of the National Gallery of Canada and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and under the leadership of Andre Bieler (see AskART).  It was attended by about 150 artists from across the country.  The stated purpose was to discuss the position of the artist in Canadian Society (subjects: aesthetics, democracy, history, etc.) and technical methods of art production (subjects: solvents, varnishes, resins, etc.) in light of modern research.  The result was the formation of the Federation of Canadian Artists, the first nationwide organization of its type.   Source: Art and Architecture in Canada (1991), by Loren R. Lerner and Mary F. Williamson (see AskART book references).

(4) ‘He completed 37 operational sorties in Halifax bombers over enemy territory.  He was commissioned in November of 1944 and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross’.  Source: A Dictionary of Canadian Artists (1974), by Colin S. MacDonald (see AskART book references).

(5) The other artists were Alex Colville, Lawren P. Harris, Jack Humphrey and Fred Ross (see all in AskART).  The AGT was renamed the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1966.

(6) The other artists were Bruno Bobak, Molly Lamb Bobak, Lawren P. Harris, Jack W. Humphrey (see all previous in AskART), Joseph Kashetsky (1941-1974), David Silverberg (b.1936), Kathy Hooper (b.1935) and Francis Coutellier (b. 1945).

* 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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