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 Barker Fairley  (1887 - 1986)

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Lived/Active: Ontario/Alberta / Canada/England      Known for: portrait, landscape and still life painting, writing, 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:
Barker Fairley was a painter, author, scholar, art critic and educator.  He was born in Barnsley, Yorkshire, England and died in Toronto, Ontario, Canada where (since 1915) he had lived most of his life.  He also lived in Edmonton, Alberta (1910 - 1915) and Manchester, England (1932 - 1936).   
His primary mediums were oil and watercolour.  His subjects were portraits, figures, landscapes and still life.  His style was Fauvism.*  His paintings are spare, linear with a limited palette and bring to mind the American artist Milton Avery.  Paradoxically, Fairley, who was a close friend of most of the members of the Group of Seven * and was, as a writer and critic, a foremost supporter and defender of their style, had a painting style quite different from theirs.
Quotes:  “I can't go any further in simplification than I have done …” and "The conclusion I reached, was that the less I interfered with the bare paper confronting me, the better, the truer to the Bay (Georgian Bay), the drawing would be." About portraiture he said: “Canada has no tradition of portraits, no tradition of freely painted faces here…I don’t want to overstate it but I don’t think Canadian painting has much of a tradition except for landscapes.”  And  “It is the human subject, the human face, the human figure whether alone or in groups or in crowds, in town and country, in war in peace, in life and death, that is the real and central subject of art...” - Barker Fairley.
About his education, it must be said, he was a highly educated, distinguished scholar … of German literature.  As for painting, he is as self-taught as a man could be who went on painting excursions with, and included, as close friends, some of the most prominent Canadian artists of his or any time.  Briefly, he graduated from Leeds University, England with a degree in Modern languages (1907).  He taught and studied at the University of Jena, Germany (1) (1907 - 1910) where he earned his PhD. He emigrated to Canada in 1910 where he taught German literature at the University of Alberta, Edmonton (1910 - 1915); and was a professor in the German Department of the University of Toronto, Ontario (1915 - 1932 and 1937 - 1957) (2).  He was a world recognized authority on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and author of the books Goethe As Revealed in His Poetry (1932), A Study of Goethe”(1947), and Goethe’s Faust in English (1970).
He began painting in 1932 when Robert Finch, a professor in the French Department at the University of Toronto invited him to go sketching one morning.  He was 45 years old.
He was a member of the Arts & Letters Club of Toronto (3) and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.
As an amateur painter for most of his life, the list of exhibitions is limited.  However, The Collectors Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction (see Book references) notes he exhibited with the Art Association of Montreal in 1939 and 1940, and it is well known that he exhibited at the Marianne Friedland Gallery, Toronto in the 1970s, 1980s and (posthumously) in the 1990s.
His works are in many private collections.  They are also in the permanent collections of the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), the University of Toronto (Hart House) and the Canada Council Art Bank.
His numerous awards included two of Canada’s highest honours: The Order of Canada OC (1979) and Fellowship in the Royal Canadian Society (1947).  He also held seven honorary doctorates.

(1)  Renamed Friedrich Schiller University of Jena in 1934.
(2)  He was  head of the German Department of the University of Manchester, England from 1932 to 1936.
(3)  One of the most famous photos of six of the original Group of Seven painters together was taken at the Arts and Letters club in 1920, Barker Fairley, who was still 12 years from picking up a brush, is at the table in the centre of the photo.

Prepared and contributed by M.D. Silverbrooke

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