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 James Wilson Morrice  (1865 - 1924)

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Lived/Active: New Brunswick / France/Canada      Known for: landscape, figure, marine, animal

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James Wilson Morrice
from Auction House Records.
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A Canadian by birth, James Morrice became a self-imposed exile to Paris, France where he pursued impressionism and post-impressionism and took a stand against the prevailing avant-garde movements of Cubism and Fauvism. However, on frequent return trips to Canada, he tried to inject Canadian art with elements of modernism but felt frustrated at these efforts. In retrospect, some art critics regard him as "the finest Canadian artist of his time" (p. 64).

Morrice was born in Montreal as one of eight children to a wealthy Scots Presbyterian family. Although he showed early art talent, he studied to become a lawyer and was admitted to the Ontario Bar, but never had to make a living because of family income.

In 1890, he went to Paris where he studied at the Academie Julian and with Henri Harpignies and quickly became a part of the artistic culture, forming a special friendship with Henri Matisse, Albert Marquet, and other avant-garde French artists. In 1912 and 1913, he traveled with Matisse to paint in Tangier.

Morrice arrived in Paris when Impressionism was becoming a popular style of painting and was much encouraged in this style by Robert Henri, who suggested that Morrice pay close attention to the painting of Edouard Manet. Another strong influence became James McNeill Whistler.

Morrice had a reputation for being a loner and was insistent upon his artistic independence, avoiding the popular and then shocking Fauve and Cubist styles.

He returned to Canada intermittently. Between 1895 and 1896, he painted with Maurice Cullen (1866-1934) and was much taken with the way Cullen adapted impressionism to the Canadian light and atmosphere. Morrice's paintings of Canadian subjects are rare, but he earned a reputation in that country for being a colorist working in abstract masses.

To those who knew Morrice in Canada, he was the very definition of the outsider, whose life in a foreign country gave him experiences to which they could not relate. He was also eccentric, ever dressing in English tailored suits, as well as alcoholic, which led to much hilarity and socializing among his friends but to his ultimate self destruction. His health steadily deteriorated, and from 1921, he was unable to work. In January 1924, he died in a military hospital in Tunis.

Source: "Masterpieces of Canadian Art From the National Gallery of Canada" by David Burnett

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