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 Robert Wakeham Pilot  (1898 - 1967)

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Lived/Active: Quebec / Canada      Known for: landscape, genre, and street scene painting

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Ad Code: 2
Robert Wakeham Pilot
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Robert  Wakeham Pilot  RCA, NAD, MBE (1898-1967)

Robert Wakeham Pilot was a painter, printmaker, muralist, illustrator and educator.  He was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland (1).  When his widowed mother married Maurice Cullen (see AskART) in 1910, the family moved to Montreal, Quebec (1911) which was Pilot's home for the rest of his life and where he died.

His mediums were oil, watercolor, pastel, pencil, charcoal and etching.  His subjects were landscapes (most famously in winter), seascapes, city streets and harbor scenes.  The locations include Quebec City, Montreal, the Laurentians, the St Lawrence River, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, the Canadian west and the Rocky Mountains.  There are also paintings from his time as a student in France (1920 - 22) and from his travels in Spain, Italy, France, England and North Africa.  His styles were Plein Air and Impressionism modified to portray the Canadian atmosphere and snow.  Quote: He said he considered himself “a classical painter because of his balance, sense of proportion and distaste for anything bizarre.” – Robert Pilot in a 1928 interview.

His art education began when his mother married Maurice Cullen whom he helped with studio chores, framing and accompanied on sketching trips.  He also took night classes in drawing at the Monument National, at the Art Association of Montreal (2) with William Brymner (see AskART) and later at the Royal Canadian Academy, until 1916 when he enlisted in the army.  When he returned from the war he continued his classes at the Art Association of Montreal until May 1920 (the same month he exhibited with the Group of Seven).  He studied in Paris at the Acadèmie Julian (1920-22) under Jean-Pierre Laurens (1875 - 1933). While in France he visited the art colony at Concarneau, Brittany and painted with Edwin Holgate (see AskART) and the American artist Charles Formuth (1861-1937).  After returning to Montreal he continued studies with William Brymner and Edmond Dyonnet (see AskART).  His other stated influences were James Wilson Morrice and the etchings of Clarence Gagnon (see both in AskART).  His formal career as an educator consisted of teaching engraving at the École des Beaux-Arts (Montreal) from 1935 to 1939.

His travels after 1922 include a trip to France, Spain, Italy, England, Morocco and Algeria in 1927.  He has also traveled in western Canada.

He was a founding member of the Beaver Hall Hill Group (Montreal) in 1920; elected a member of the Salon Nationale des Beaux-Arts (Paris) in 1922; elected an associate of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1925; elected a full member (RCA) in 1935; and served as RCA President from 1952 to 1954.  He was also a member of the Pen and Pencil Club of Montreal (1930).

He exhibited, as a guest, in the first Group of Seven show (see AskART glossary) in 1920 at the Art Gallery of Toronto (3).  He also exhibited with the Paris Salon in 1922, with the RCA from 1913 to 1966, and with the Art Association of Montreal  from 1914 to 1967.  The venues for his solo shows include  Watson Art Galleries, Montreal (1927 to 1958); The Arts Club of Montreal (1946, 1951, 1952); Laing Gallery, Toronto (1948); Victoria College, Toronto (1951); Continental Galleries, Montreal (1961); and the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, Ontario (1967).  In 1969 the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts organized a retrospective exhibition of his work which was also shown at the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa) and the Art Gallery of Hamilton (Ontario).

His numerous awards and honors include the Wood Scholarship (1919), two Art Association of Montreal Jesse Dow Prizes (1927, 1934), the Coronation Medal (1953) (4), election to membership in the National Academy of Design, U.S.A. (1953) and a Doctor of Civil Laws (Honoris Causa), from Bishop's University, Sherbrooke, Quebec (1953).  His paintings have also been presented by the Canadian government as gifts to  Sir Winston Churchill on his 80th Birthday (1954), and to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip to commemorate their visit to Canada in 1957.

While many Canadian artists have served in a  World War, often as an artist, Pilot is exceptional in having served in combat in both World Wars.  In March 1916, he enlisted for active service in the army during World War I.  He served overseas as a gunner on trench mortars in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, Fifth Division Artillery, until the end of the war.  In 1941 he went back into the Canadian Army serving with The Black Watch as camouflage staff officer with the First Canadian Corps and Head­quarters attached to the 8th Army in England and Italy.  While in Italy he was mentioned in dispatches (5).  He was a recipient of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for chivalry in 1944.

Pilot’s work is avidly collected, it is in many private and corporate collections.  It is also in many museums including the Art Gallery of Hamilton (Ontario), Museum London (Ontario), the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Quebec (Quebec City), the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (B.C.) and the Confederation Art Gallery & Museum (Charlottetown, P.E.I.).  There are 30 works by Robert Pilot in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa).  Examples of his illustrations can be found in the Blodwen Davies guide books, Storied Streets of Quebec (1927) is considered one of the best (6).

He is listed in A Dictionary of Canadian Artists (1974), by Colin S. MacDonald; in The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction (2001), by Anthony R. Westbridge and Diana L. Bodnar; in The Canadian Encyclopedia  (1985), Hurtig Publishers; and in Art and Architecture in Canada (1991), by Loren R. Lerner and Mary F. Williamson.  His press coverage goes back to at least 1920 (The Montreal Gazette, October 29, 1920 "To study in Paris - Mr. Robert Pilot Sails for France Today").


(1) At the time Newfoundland was a Dominion of the United Kingdom.  It joined Canada in 1949.  

(2) After 1948 it became the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

(3) The other non-members exhibiting were Albert H. Robinson and Randolph S. Hewton (see both in AskART).  Only three works sold in the exhibit of 121 paintings, one of them was a Robert Pilot pastel.  The Art Gallery of Toronto was renamed the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1966.

(4) The Coronation Medal was minted to commemorate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.  The Governments of the various countries in the British Commonwealth determined the list of  distinguished individuals to be awarded.  The medals were presented following the coronation on June 2, 1953.  Of the 138,214 total medals issued, 12,500 went to Canadians.

(5) "Mentioned in dispatches" is a British military term defined as -  honored by being named in official military reports for special bravery or acts of service.

(6) William Colgate, Canadian Art - Its Origin And Development (1943), The Ryerson Press, Toronto.

Prepared and contributed by M.D. Silverbrooke.

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