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 Charles Walter Simpson  (1878 - 1942)

About: Charles Walter Simpson
 

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Lived/Active: Quebec / Canada      Known for: painting, illustration, printmaking, murals, draughtsman

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Charles Walter Simpson
from Auction House Records.
Kilwauga Village of Totem Poles
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Charles Walter Simpson RCA (1878 – 1942)

A well-known Canadian painter, prolific illustrator, draftsman, muralist, printmaker and war artist, Charles Walter Simpson was born in Montreal, Quebec and, aside from travel, lived his whole life there and died there. In the early decades of the twentieth century he was grouped among the most prominent of contemporary Canadian artists, his work is discussed and illustrated in most Canadian art history books, and examples of it are in most major Canadian museums. (1)

His mediums included oil, gouache*, watercolor, tempera*, pencil, ink, graphite*, and etching*. His subjects included landscapes, portraits, genre*, allegory*, historic events, historic people (e.g. explorers, politicians, and royalty), cities (e.g. Montreal, Detroit, Boston, New Orleans, Victoria, Calgary, Pittsburgh, and Chicago), seascapes (e.g. Pacific coast), harbors, the Rocky Mountains, farm houses, villages, buildings and monuments. The painting and drawing locations include every province in Canada, numerous US states, England and France. His styles were Impressionism* and Realism*. (2)

Simpson’s formal art education began with studies at the Art Association of Montreal (c. 1895 – 1899) under William Brymner (3); he also studied under Edmond Dyonnet and Maurice Cullen (before 1900); and at the Art Students League* of New York (c.1903 – 1905) under George Bridgman and Kenyon Cox. (4)

Simpson was a member of the Arts Club of Montreal*, the Pen and Pencil Club of Montreal*, and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts* (Associate 1913, Academician 1920, Treasurer 1922 – 1941). (5)

He exhibited in the spring exhibitions of the Art Association of Montreal (AAM) [now Montreal Museum of Fine Arts], between 1909 and 1938, and in the annual exhibitions of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (RCA)*, between 1910 and 1942. His works were also in “A Century of Canadian Art”, which showed at the Tate, London (1938); and in “Development of Painting in Canada, 1665 – 1945”, which showed at the National Gallery of Canada, Art Gallery of Ontario, Quebec Museum of Fine Arts and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1945). (6)

The venues for Simpson’s solo shows included the Arts Club of Montreal* (1916); W. Scott & Sons, Montreal (1930); T. Eaton Fine Art Galleries, Montreal (1936); and (posthumously) Stevens Art Gallery, Montreal (1943). (7)

His career as an illustrator began with work under Henri Julien at The Montreal Star (1899 – 1901); and then the Halifax Chronicle (1902 – 1903). Much later he did a series on US cities for the Ladies’ Home Journal (1929 – 1932).  He also illustrated numerous books and pamphlets such as The Lure of Quebec (1923), Here and There in Montreal (1924), Legends of the St. Lawrence (1926), Elvira and Fernando (1927), The Evolution of Government in Canada (1928), Old Montreal with Pen and Pencil (1929), Canadian Cities of Romance (1933 edition), Twelve Canadian Streets (calendar for 1933-34), Canadian Pacific Rockies (1936), From Rags to Writing Paper (1936), and The Spirit of Canada (1939). (8)

His most well-known mural is St. Columbia Bringing the Elements of Celtic Art into Scotland. It was originally painted at the Art Association of Montreal (for the RCA) in 1924 and is now at Trinity College School, Port Hope, Ontario. (9)

Simpson’s works are frequently traded on the Canadian auction market, they are in numerous private collections, and examples are in several Canadian museum collections.

According to the Canadian Heritage Information Network* and individual museum websites, there are Simpson paintings and drawings in the permanent collections of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (B.C.), Canadian War Museum (Ottawa), Library and Archives of Canada (Ottawa), McCord Museum of Canadian History (Montreal), Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Quebec), Quebec Museum of Fine Arts (Quebec City), Simon Fraser University Gallery (Burnaby, B.C.), Vancouver Art Gallery (B.C.), Winnipeg Art Gallery (Manitoba), and the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa).

Among his awards is one of Canada’s oldest and most prestigious, the Jessie Dow Prize* given by the Art Association of Montreal (1921). (10)

 
Footnotes:

(1.1) Sources: “The Macmillan Dictionary of Canadian Biography” (1978), edited by W. A. McKay; “A National Soul: Canadian Mural Painting, 1860s – 1930s” (2002), by Marylin Jean McKay; and "The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction" (2001), by Anthony R. Westbridge and Diana L. Bodnar (see AskART book references).

(1.2) In January 1918, Simpson along with F. H. Varley, J.W. Beatty and Maurice Cullen were commissioned as war artists for Canada and sent to France and England “to paint war pictures”. In this service, Simpson attained the rank of Captain. Sources: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists" (1997), by Colin S. MacDonald; “The Group of Seven: Art for a Nation” (1995), by Charles C. Hill; and “The Logic of Ecstasy: Canadian Mystical Painting, 1920 – 1940” (1992), by Ann Davis (see AskART book references).

(1.3) In 1917, Eric Brown the Director of the National Gallery of Canada submitted illustrations of what were considered to be the best examples of contemporary Canadian painting for the book “Art of the British Empire Overseas” (see AskART book references). Simpson was among the 17 illustrated artists which included three Presidents of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts* (Brymner, Reid, Watson), and three future members of the Group of Seven* (Harris, MacDonald, Lismer), as well as: Tom Thomson, Suzor-Cote, Mabel May, F.M. Bell-Smith, J.W. Beatty, J.A. Browne, F. Brownell, C.W. Jefferys, F.M. Knowles and V. Molina.

2) Sources: AskART Images; museum illustrations and descriptions of mediums in the Canadian Heritage Information Network* data base; The Fiction Mags Index; Ladies’ Home Journal (1929 issues); "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists" (1997), by Colin S. MacDonald; and “The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction" (2001), by Anthony R. Westbridge and Diana L. Bodnar (see AskART book references).

(3) Please note: All artist teachers and artist associates mentioned in this biography and its footnotes have their own pages in AskART.

(4.1) Sources: "The Fine Arts in Canada" (1925), by Newton MacTavish; “The National Gallery of Canada: Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture, Volume III” (1960), by R.H. Hubbard; “Creative Canada: A Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth Century Creative and Performing Arts” (1972), by Helen M. Rodney; "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists" (1997), by Colin S. MacDonald; and "The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction" (2001), by Anthony R. Westbridge and Diana L. Bodnar (see AskART book references).

(4.2) Please note: Unfortunately, our sources do not totally agree with themselves when it comes to Simpson’s education.  For example, "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists" (1997), by Colin S. MacDonald and "The Fine Arts in Canada" (1925), by Newton MacTavish (as well as most others) state that, Simpson studied under Dyonnet and Cullen at the AAM; however, the same sources don’t list the AAM as a teaching venue for either Dyonnet or Cullen before 1900, when Simpson would have attended. Also, most dictionaries list Walter Appleton Clark as a teacher of Simpson at the ASL; however most sources, for Clark, indicate he only taught at the ASL for one year 1899; which is about 3 years before Simpson studied there. We tried to find biographical sources for all 4 artists individually which would work together chronologically and overcome the inconsistencies… with no luck. R.H. Hubbard possibly had the same problem and solved it with clever punctuation and omission in his “The National Gallery of Canada: Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture, Volume III”. In it he says of Simpson’s education: ‘studied at the Art Association of Montreal under William Brymner, and under Edmond Dyonnet and Maurice Cullen.’ Which doesn’t necessarily mean Dyonnet and Cullen were at the AAM. As for the Art Students League: he only says Simpson studied there, he names no teachers. For the AAM, we have followed Hubbard’s example; but, for the ASL we have included Bridgman and Cox since they are noted teachers of Simpson, and they were teachers at the ASL when Simpson was supposed to have studied there (Bridgman is named in most sources, Cox is named in the MacDonald dictionary). Additional sources: The Art Students League of New York; the Walter Appleton Clark page in AskART; JVJ Publishing (online); “Canadian Men and Women of the Time: A Handbook of Canadian Biography of Living Characters” (1912), edited by Henry James Morgan; “Early Painters and Engravers in Canada” (1970), by J. Russell Harper; “The Macmillan Dictionary of Canadian Biography” (1978), edited by W. A. McKay; and “The Illustrator in America 1880 – 1980: A Century of Illustration ” (1993), by Walt Reed and Roger Reed.

(5) Sources: “A Dictionary of Canadian Artists" (1997), by Colin S. MacDonald; "Passionate Spirits: A History of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, 1880 – 1980" (1980), by Rebecca Sisler; and "The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction" (2001), by Anthony R. Westbridge and Diana L. Bodnar (see AskART book references).

(6) Sources: "Royal Canadian Academy of Arts: Exhibitions and Members, 1880 – 1979" (1981), by Evelyn de R. McMann; “Montreal Museum of Fine Arts: Spring Exhibitions 1880 – 1970” (1988), by Evelyn de R. McMann; and “The National Gallery of Canada: Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture, Volume III” (1960), by R.H. Hubbard (see AskART book references).

(7) Source: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists" (1997), by Colin S. MacDonald (see AskART book references).

(8) Sources: Ibid; and “Creative Canada: A Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth Century Creative and Performing Arts” (1972), by Helen M. Rodney (see AskART book references).

(9) Sources: “Canadian Art Its Origin and Development” (1943), by William Colgate; and “A National Soul: Canadian Mural Painting, 1860s – 1930s” (2002), by Marylin Jean McKay (see AskART book references).

(10) Source: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists" (1997), by Colin S. MacDonald (see AskART book references).

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see AskART.com. Glossary http://www.askart.com/AskART/lists/Art_Definition.aspx.

Prepared and contributed by M.D. Silverbrooke.

 


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