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 William Goodridge Roberts  (1904 - 1974)

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Lived/Active: Quebec/New Brunswick / Canada/Barbados      Known for: landscape, still life and portrait painting

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Ad Code: 3
William Goodridge Roberts
from Auction House Records.
Still Life with Irises
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
William Goodridge Roberts (AKA: Goodridge Roberts) was a painter, graphic artist and educator.  He was born in Bathsheba, Barbados, while his parents were visiting there from Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.  He died in Montreal, Quebec.  Shortly after his birth his family returned to their home in Fredericton.  Before he was twenty, he lived in several locations with them including England (1908 -1910); France (1910 -1912); Fredericton (1912 -1914); England (1914 - 1919) (1); Fredericton (1919); Ottawa, Ontario (1920); and back to Fredericton (1920 -1930).  As an adult he lived in Ottawa (1930 - 1933); Kingston, Ontario (1933 -1936); Montreal, Quebec (1936 - 1959 and 1960 -1974) and Fredericton (1959-1960).
His mediums were oil (from 1938), watercolour, pastel, gouache*, charcoal and pencil.  His subjects are landscapes, nudes, figures, still life, interiors, cartoons, portraits, self-portraits (2) and from 1943 to 1945, war.  The locations of his landscapes include the cities and countryside around where he lived and traveled as well as the Laurentian Mountains and Eastern Townships of (south east) Quebec and Georgian Bay, Ontario (100 miles north of Toronto).  His styles were Expressionism*, Fauvism* and Plein Air*.

Quote: "One thing I find extremely fascinating about him is that, unlike the majority of painters of any stripe, he never worked from his imagination, he always used a model or worked directly from the landscape." - Professor Sandra Paikowsky, curator of “Goodridge Roberts Revealed” at The McMichael Canadian Art Collection (1998).

He never used preliminary studies or drawings, and using rapid brush strokes and a loose style, he usually finished a painting in one session and, when painting, often completed more than one a day.  His lifetime production is estimated at 3000 works.

Quote: "He would abandon something if he felt it was hopeless, but he almost never went back to a painting -- certainly not at all with a landscape or still life -- but sometimes with a figure he might have worked on it a second time with the model.  But that was not his usual habit." - Joan Roberts (wife).

His landscapes usually depict vast spaces; his figure work was characteristically a frontal view with strong contrasts; and his interiors reveal a fauvist influence often with distorted forms and bold colours.  There are good illustrations of all his genres in the AskART Image Examples.

His formal art education includes studies at the École des Beaux-Arts in Montreal (1923 -1925) under Edmond Dyonnet and Charles Maillard, and at the Art Students League* in New York (1926 -1928) under John French Sloan, Max Weber and Boardman Robinson (see all teachers in AskART).

Roberts worked as an art teacher several times in his life, starting in 1931 at the Art Association of Ottawa; that year he also opened a summer school in Wakefield, Quebec (about 50 miles north of Ottawa); then from 1933 to 1936 he taught at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario as artist in residence on a Carnegie Grant; in 1936 he opened the Roberts-Neumann School of Art in Montreal with Ernst Neumann (see AskART); from 1940 to 1949 he taught at the Art Association of Montreal (interrupted by service in the RCAF 1943 -1945), and from 1959 to 1960 he was resident-artist at the University of New Brunswick (Fredericton).  Paterson Ewen, John R. Fox and Jacques de Tonnancour (see all in AsKART) are among his former students.

His travels include eight months in Europe (November 1953 - June 1954) on a Canadian government overseas fellowship; he visited Paris, London, Brussels, Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, Florence, Rome, Venice, Padua and Agay on the Côte d’Azur.

He was a founding member of the Eastern Group of Painters* (1938) and the Contemporary Art Society* (1939).  He was also a member of the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour* (1939), the Canadian Society of Graphic Art* (1939), the Canadian Group of Painters* (c.1939), Prisme d'Yeux* (1948), and he was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts* (1952 Associate /1956 Academician).  He also enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in 1943 and was appointed a war artist serving in England.

In addition to showing with the above artist groups Roberts’ works were also exhibited at the Ottawa Art Association (1931); at the New York World’s Fair (1939); in “Canadian Contemporary Painting” at the Canadian Club, New York (1948); in “Forty Years of Canadian Painting” at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Massachusetts (1949); at the Museum of Quebec, Quebec City (1950); the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (1950); in “Painters of Canada” at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond (1950); in “Canadian Painting” at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (1950); at the Venice Biennale* (1952,1962); in the Sao Paulo Biennial*, Brazil (1951,1953); in the Carnegie International Exhibition of Paintings*, Pittsburgh (1952); in the “Coronation Exhibition” at the National Gallery of Canada (1953); in the Exhibition of Canadian Painting organized by the National Gallery of Canada that travelled to Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India (1954 -1955); in “IV Centennial” Valencia,Spain (1955); in the Carnegie International Exhibition of Contemporary Painting*, Pittsburgh (1955); in the Inter-American Biennial of Painting, Mexico (1958); in the Brussels World’s Fair (1958); in the “3rd Biennial of Canadian Art” at the National Gallery of Canada (1959); in “Canada on Canvas” at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (1963); in "Contemporary Canadian Art" at the Tate Gallery, London (1963); in Expo 67, Montreal; in “Three Hundred Years of Canadian Art” at the National Gallery of Canada (1967) and in many more. He also exhibited at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Spring exhibitions from 1935 to 1964 and with the Ontario Society of Artists in 1932, 1957, 1960 and 1962. Notable for his regular contributions, he exhibited consistently with the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts from 1937 to 1964 and with the Canadian Group of Painters from 1939 to 1967.

Posthumously, his work is regularly included in exhibitions that examine 20th Century Canadian art; some examples are:“Canadian Painting in the 30s” at the National Gallery of Canada  (1975); “The Laurentians: Painters in a Landscape” at the Art Gallery of Ontario (1977); “Okanada” an exhibition held at the Academy of Arts (Akademie der Künste) in Berlin, Germany (1982); “Canadian Art in Britain” at Canada House Gallery, London (1982); “A Collectors Vision: J.S. McLean and Modern Painting in Canada” at the Art Gallery of Ontario (1999); “Canvas of War: Painting the Canadian Experience, 1914 - 1945” at the Art Gallery of Ontario (2001); “1953” at the Art Gallery of Ontario (2003); “Another Modernity – The Question of the City, 1915 - 1950” at the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art (2003) and “The Place of Magic, Quebec in the 40s, 50s and 60s” at the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art (2006).  Currently, his work is included in "The Nude in Modern Canadian Art" exhibition at the Museum of Quebec from October 8, 2009 to January 4, 2010.

His solo exhibitions at public venues include: the Arts Club of Montreal (1932, 1939, 1941); the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1940, 1942, 1950); the Vancouver Art Gallery, B.C. (1943,1954); the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton, N.B. (1960), the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, Ontario (1963); "War Painter" at the National Gallery of Canada (1964); the Hamilton Art Gallery, Ontario (1969); and a retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in 1969.

His solo exhibitions at private galleries include: James Wilson Galleries, Ottawa (1933, 1938); Dominion Gallery, Montreal (1943, 1945, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1962); Galerie R. Creuze, Paris, France (1954); L'Atelier, Quebec City (1951, 1957); Robertson Galleries, Ottawa; (1958,1963); and  Roberts Gallery, Toronto (1966).

Posthumously, the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario had an exhibition of his drawings in 1976; the Art Gallery of Ontario had “Goodridge Roberts: Paintings from the 1950s and 60s” in 1981; the Mendel Art Gallery (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan) had “Goodridge Roberts: Selected Works” in 1981; Concordia University Art Gallery, Montreal had an exhibition of  "The Figure Works" in 1984; the Art Gallery of Ontario sponsored a show at the Burlington Cultural Centre (Ontario) in 1984; the McMichael Canadian Art Collection had a retrospective (Goodridge Roberts Revealed) in 1998; and the National Gallery of Canada had “Goodridge Roberts: Drawings, Caricatures and Cartoons” from January 14 to April 24, 2009.

His works are avidly collected.  They are also in numerous public collections including the Agnes Etherington Art Centre (Kingston, Ontario), 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 Joliette Art Museum (Quebec), the McMichael Canadian Art Collection (Kleinburg, Ontario),  the Mackenzie Art Gallery (Regina, Saskatchewan), the Robert McLaughlin Gallery (Oshawa, Ontario), the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery (Concordia University, Montreal), the Mendel Art Gallery (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (Halifax), Museum London (Ontario), the New Brunswick Museum (St. John), the Museum of Quebec (Quebec City), the Ottawa Art Gallery (Ontario), the Winnipeg Art Gallery (Manitoba), the Vancouver Art Gallery (B.C.), the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art and the Beaverbrook Art Gallery (Fredericton, N.B.). There are 28 Roberts works in the National Gallery of Canada and 115 in the Canadian War Museum (Ottawa). According to the Canadian Heritage Information Network there are 326 Roberts works in museums across Canada.

His honours and awards include one of the countries highest honours, appointment as an Officer of the Order of Canada (OC) in 1969.  He was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws by the University of New Brunswick in 1960.  He also won two Jessie Dow Prizes* (1939, 1957) from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Glazebrook Award for landscape at the National Gallery’s 3rd Biennial of Canadian Art in 1959.
As an important Canadian artist his work is illustrated and discussed in most books about Canadian art history and Canadian modern art.  There is also the monograph Goodridge Roberts, 1904 - 1974 (1998), by Sandra Paikowsky, and the book Joan & Goodridge: My Life with Goodridge Roberts (2010), by Joan Roberts (see both in AskART book references).


(1) His father, Theodore Goodridge Roberts (1877- 1953), was a well-traveled foreign correspondent, poet, and the author of over thirty novels.  During World War I, his family accompanied him when he served with the Canadian Army in England .
(2) In 1953, the year his father died, he went through a period when he painted several self-portraits (see AskART image example).

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Prepared and contributed by M.D. Silverbrooke

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at
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