Ad Code: 3
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
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
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
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.|