The following text was submitted by Louis Gagliardi, Curator, P.C. Sheppard Collection:
Peter Clapham Sheppard A.R.C.A, O.S.A. (1882-1965)
Peter Clapham Sheppard occupies a place among a notable generation of artists that pioneered and firmly established a distinctively Canadian school of art. In the years preceding the Great War and in the decade to follow, these Toronto-based artists broke away from the academic, the often dull and sentimental images of the French and Dutch aesthetic, to focus their attentions on the beauty and bounty of the Canadian landscape – specifically, the waters, forests, and skies of Ontario’s hinterland. They painted these elements, timelessly transforming under the changing visages of the seasons, in a new and vibrant modernist idiom.
P.C. Sheppard trained, sketched, and exhibited alongside such peers as Tom Thomson as well as others who would soon command and sustain national attention under the collective name of The Group of Seven. Due to the ensuing and protracted monopoly on fame enjoyed by these men, many accomplished artists of that generation have become, regrettably, relegated to an obscurity both undeserved and irrevocable. It will be a matter of time before art admirers and future art historians of this country discover and reassess the splendid and talented contributions of these artists and so advance the cause of Canadian art -- for they too played a role in creating this country’s cultural legacy by recording the imperishable images of those urban and rural landscapes now forever altered or gone. Such is the claim that awaits validation for the life and works of Peter Clapham Sheppard.
Born in Toronto on October 21, 1882, Sheppard received his art training at the Central Ontario School of Art and Design and the Ontario College of Art under George Reid, John William Beatty, and William Cruickshank, accomplished artists and influential teachers. There in 1912-13 he won the Sir Edmund Walker Scholarship and later the Stone Scholarship (Life Classes) in 1913-14, as well as nine Honours diplomas for painting, drawing, and composition. In his book Canadian Landscape Painters (1932), A.H. Robson comments on Sheppard’s work at this point in his career: “…[he] then began exhibiting pictures with a breadth of brush handling and a brilliancy of colour which attracted favourable attention.” Earlier in his youth Sheppard served apprenticeships in the commercial engraving houses of Toronto such as Rolph, Clark, Stone Ltd. His superb skills as a lithographer provided him the means of a livelihood throughout his life that was wholly and tirelessly devoted to art. After 1912 he travelled extensively throughout Europe and the United States. He was elected a member of the Ontario Society of Artists in 1918 and an Associate of the Royal Canadian Academy in 1929.
In a group photo from 1910 of O.S.A. exhibitors, Sheppard appears with the most renowned artists of the time and of the near future such as George Reid, John William Beatty, Lawren Harris, and J.E.H. MacDonald. He soon became a regular exhibitor in the annual R.C.A., O.S.A. and C.N.E. exhibitions. In fact, catalogues for these events, held during these historically formative first decades, reveal that Sheppard’s paintings hung alongside other works which eventually became Canadian cultural icons; namely: Thomson’s West Wind, Jack Pine, Northern River; Varley’s Dhârâna; and MacDonald’s Solemn Land to name but a few.
To further underscore his important contributions in these early years, Sheppard’s works were selected for those pivotal exhibitions organized by Eric Brown of the National Gallery, which first elevated Canadian art onto the world stage:
--- The British Empire Exhibition, Wembley 1925
--- L’Exposition D’Art Canadien, Paris 1927
--- The Exhibition of Contemporary Canadian Painting
(Southern Dominions) 1936
--- The World’s Fair, New York 1939
Quiet by nature, humble in spirit, P.C. Sheppard worked prolifically, producing sketches and large canvases that extol his talents as a draughtsman and colourist. His versatility is evidenced in the many formidable examples of figural works, portraits, still life, landscapes, city and harbour scenes, circuses, country fairs, markets, and horse-cab stands. He taught at the O.C.A summer school as well as at his studio in Toronto. A very fine teacher, he gave help and encouragement to many. Toward the end of his life, the meek and solitary Sheppard found comfort and companionship in the admiring and devoted friendship of painter-printmaker Bernice Fenwick Martin. It was she and her husband Langton who saw to the agèd artist’s care in the final years, arranging for his residence at the Salvation Army’s Isabel and Arthur Meighen Lodge for the Elderly on Millwood Avenue in Toronto, directly across the street from their home. Peter Clapham Sheppard died there on
April 24, 1965.
Sheppard is represented in the National Gallery, Ottawa by Midwinter (1928) and Lake Traffic (1930); in the Art Gallery of Ontario by Morning on the River (1917) and Old House (1934); and in the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa by Portrait of a World War 1 Officer and A Veteran of the Atlantic (c.1945).