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 William Blair Bruce  (1859 - 1906)

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Lived/Active: Ontario / Canada/France      Known for: seascape, landscape and figure painting

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Coastal View
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Hamilton, Canada, on October 10th, 1859, William Blair Bruce was one of that city's prominent native painters, although he lived most of his life in Europe. In his paintings, he frequently returned to the subject of recording ever-changing views including the movement of sea, clouds, chromatic and light conditions. His notebooks from the 1890s record the changing conditions of light and time, and his awareness of how paint and color works -- a tool to create images rather than simulate reality.

He received formal training in Hamilton, and in 1880 exhibited in the Ontario Society of Artists exhibition in Toronto. As a young man, he attended classes in law at the Hamilton Collegiate Institute and then joined his father's enterprise, the Hamilton Writing Institute, and worked there for several years as a mechanical draftsman.

His family knew he had talent and wanted him to succeed in his chosen career as an artist, and in the summer of 1881, supported his going to study in Europe. Bruce's aim as a student was to exhibit his works, especially in the Paris Salon, the Royal Academy in London or the Munich Academy. What Bruce wanted to exhibit was the color and form "one sees in nature" for him, the only truth. Bruce believed his peculiar gift was the design of outdoor effects. In 1885 he wrote to his father, "How I would like to do honor to our Canada, the noble Dominion, to our ambitious little City, to the family."

Apart from return visits to Canada, he remained in Europe until his death in 1906. Bruce exhibited in Academy exhibitions in Paris, Liverpool, London, and Munich and won a Gold Medal in the Pan-American exhibition in Buffalo in 1901. A retrospective exhibition of his work was mounted at the Galleries Georges Petit in Paris, in 1907, and in Stockholm that same year. Although his works are represented in several Canadian museum and gallery collections, an exhibition at the Kelowna Art Gallery in 2000 was the first time this set of seascapes had been shown in British Columbia.

Following his death at the age of 47, Bruce's family bestowed a substantial collection of his works to the City of Hamilton with the proviso that a permanent gallery be built. His paintings which include "The Long Cloud", "Sunset in Clouds", "The Rag Picker", "Moonlight in Canada" and "The Phantom Hunter" are all part of the permanent collection of the Art Gallery of Hamilton.

Arlene Gehmacher has written a book about Bruce, published by the Art Gallery of Hamilton. Titled "William Blair Bruce: Painting for Posterity", the book is an account of the professional life of this nineteenth-century Canadian artist. She writes that while Bruce did leave a legacy of some of the gems of the period, there would have been no success without the marketing expertise of the artist, his family and associates. Through the use of private letters, newspaper accounts and interviews, she delineates the business of art in an era when there was no public financing or support.


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