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Philip Henry Howard Surrey

 (1910 - 1990)
Philip Henry Howard Surrey was active/lived in Quebec, Manitoba / Canada.  Philip Surrey is known for Painting, commercial art, draftsman, printmaking, teaching.

Philip Henry Howard Surrey

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Philip Henry Howard Surrey
Philip Henry Howard Surrey CM, LL.D., RCA, FCA, CAS, CSGA, EGP (1910 - 1990)

Philip Henry Howard Surrey (AKA: Philip Surrey) was an important Canadian painter, draftsman, commercial artist, journalist (1), printmaker and educator. Most exhibitions that examine 20th century Canadian art include his paintings, most comprehensive Canadian art history books illustrate and discuss his work, and most major Canadian museums have Philip Surrey pieces in their permanent collections.

He was born in Calgary, Alberta; lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba (1921 - 1924); Vancouver, B.C. (1924 - 1937); and Montreal, Quebec (1937 - 1990) where he died. (2)

His mediums include oil, watercolor, acrylic, gouache*, charcoal, chalk, Conte Crayon*, pastel, pencil, felt pen, ballpoint pen, pen and ink, ink wash, posters, etching* and serigraph*. His most well known paintings are of urban street scenes focusing on a solitary figure or a small group of pedestrians negotiating a sidewalk or intersection. His subjects are figures, portraits, interiors (restaurants, bars), nudes, social commentary, dreams, sports (hockey, softball), genre*, landscape, cityscape, mountains, lakes and beach scenes. Almost all of his works have at least one human figure in them. Most locations are the Canadian cities and countryside near where he lived, particularly Montreal. There are also works from his travels in the Arctic (c.1958) and Mediterranean (c.1964). His styles are Realism*, Expressionism*, Surrealism* and Social Realism*. AskART have some good illustrations. (3)

Quote: "Each individual is alone, cut off. Each wonders how others cope with life. A work of art is a particularly complex statement, valuable because packed with meaning..." and "Like icebergs, four-fifths of our personalities lie below the surface; of the fifth that shows, only part can be expressed in conversation. The only effective outlet for all deeper feelings and thoughts is art." - Philip Surrey (c. 1949) (4)

Surrey's art education includes classes with Alexander Musgrove (5) in Winnipeg (c. 1923); night school at the Winnipeg School of Art, Manitoba (1927 - 1928) under Lionel LeMoine Fitzgerald and George Overton; the Vancouver School of Art, B.C. (1931 - 1936) under J.W.G. MacDonald and Frederick Varley; and the Art Students League of New York* (1936 - 1937) under Frank Vincent DuMond and Alexander Abels. (6)

Surrey worked as a commercial artist at Brigdens Limited, Winnipeg (1924 - 1929) and Cleland-Kent Engraving, Vancouver (1929 - 1936). He was a photo and feature editor for Standard Newspaper [later Weekend Magazine] in Montreal (1937 - 1964) and he taught drawing at Concordia University, Montreal (1965 - 1975). (7)

He was a founding member of the Eastern Group of Painters* (1938), the Contemporary Art Society* (1939), and the Montreal Men's Press Club [now Montreal Press Club] (1948). He was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts*, Federation of Canadian Artists*, International Association of Plastic Arts, Canadian Society of Graphic Art*, and the Print and Drawing Council of Canada*. (8)

Since the 1930s his works have been featured in numerous important themed Canadian exhibitions like the "All Canadian Show" National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (1932 and 1933); the New York World's Fair (1939); "Contemporary Painting in Canada", Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts (1942); "Canadian Art 1760 - 1943", Yale University Art Gallery (1944); "The Painter and the City", Art Gallery of Hamilton, Ontario (1953), "Canadian Painting of the Thirties", Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (1967); "Panorama of Painting in Quebec: 1940 - 1955", Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art (1967); "Canadian Painting in the Thirties", National Gallery of Canada (1975);  "The Arts of Quebec", Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art (1974); "Three Generations of Quebec Painting", Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art (1976); "Major Movements in Twentieth Century Canadian Art", Edmonton Art Gallery [now Art Gallery of Alberta] (1978); "The Contemporary Arts Society: 1939 - 1948", Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art (1981); "Modern Art in Quebec 1916 - 1946", National Gallery of Canada (1982); "Vancouver Art and Artists: 1931 - 1983", Vancouver Art Gallery, B.C. (1983); "Brigdens of Winnipeg", Winnipeg Art Gallery (2001); "Defining the Portrait", Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Concordia University, Montreal (2001); and "This is Montreal!", Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery (2008). (9)

He also exhibited in the B.C. Artists Annual, Vancouver Art Gallery, B.C. in 1932, 1934 and 1936; with the Canadian Group of Painters* in 1937, 1939 and 1942; and at the Art Association of Montreal [now Montreal Museum of Fine Arts] between 1938 and 1963.

The public venues for Surrey's solo, retrospective and duo exhibitions include the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts [with Louise Gadbois] (1949); Montreal Museum of Fine Arts [with York Wilson] (1955), Quebec Museum of Fine Arts, Quebec City (1960 and 1966), Montreal Museum of Fine Arts [with G. Fiori] (1961), Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art ["Philip Surrey: Painter in the City"] (1971); and the Canadian Cultural Centre, Paris (1972). He had four man shows with Andre Bieler, Henri Masson and Louis Muhlstock at Art Gallery of Toronto [now Art Gallery of Ontario] in 1939 and with John Lyman, Eric Goldberg and Goodridge Roberts at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1949.

The venues for his commercial gallery group and solo exhibitions include Galerie Antoine, Montreal; Watson Galleries, Montreal; Galerie Gilles Corbeil, Montreal; Roberts Gallery, Toronto; and Walter Klinkhoff Gallery, Montreal.

Surrey's works are very actively traded on the Canadian auction market, they are in numerous private collections, and they are in many important public collections.

According to the Canadian Heritage Information Network* there are a total of 208 Surrey works in the permanent collections of Canadian museums. They include: Museum London (Ontario), Winnipeg Art Gallery (Manitoba), Quebec Museum of Fine Arts (Quebec City), Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art, Art Gallery of Hamilton (Ontario), Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (B.C.), Joliette Art Museum (Quebec), Beaverbrook Art Gallery (Fredericton, New Brunswick), Owens Art Gallery (Sackville, N.B.), Sherbrooke Museum of Fine Arts (Quebec), Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (Halifax), Vancouver Art Gallery (B.C.), Art Gallery of Alberta (Edmonton), Agnes Etherington Art Centre (Kingston, Ontario), Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery (Concordia University, Montreal), Canadian War Museum (Ottawa), Canadian Museum of Civilization (Gatineau, Quebec), and the National Gallery of Canada, which has 7 of his works.

The Firestone Art Collection* of the Ottawa Art Gallery has 90 Philip Surrey works in its permanent collection, which appears to be the most of any museum; these are not included in the above Canadian Heritage Information Network* count. (10)

The National Archives of Canada also has a collection of Philip Surrey material; it includes his personal papers, correspondence, work logs, Margaret Surrey's unpublished biography of Philip Surrey (and diary excerpts), exhibition catalogues, reviews, technical notes, 291 photographs and 253 original works in pencil, charcoal, watercolor, pastel, felt pen, and pen and ink; including some preparatory drawings for oil paintings. (11)

Among his numerous awards and honors are First Prize at the Spring Exhibition of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1953); the Canadian Centennial Medal (1967); and an honorary degree from Concordia University in 1981. (12)

In 1982, Philip Surrey was awarded one of Canada's highest honors - the Order of Canada (CM). The citation reads:

"Ever since settling in Montreal in 1937, and becoming a founding member of the Contemporary Arts Society, he has been the leading exponent of urban landscape painting in Canada. His Montreal street scenes convey an emotive vision of the modern city, with its anonymous crowds and individual solitudes. His expressive style and a poetic humanitarianism constitute a unique contribution to Canadian art."  (13)


A general note about sources: With thanks to the National Gallery of Canada and curator Charles C. Hill, we have two very valuable original sources of data on Philip Surrey. First, between 1933 and 1979 Surrey submitted seven information forms to the National Gallery detailing his education, travels, associations, teaching and other activities to the date submitted. Second, on September 14, 1973, in preparation for the exhibition "Canadian Painting in the Thirties", Charles C. Hill sat down with Surrey and recorded over three hours of conversation with him about his activities and associations. Both of these are available online, the addresses are listed below. They are the primary sources of names and dates used in this biography. Additional sources used are cited in the respective paragraph footnotes.

NGC May 22, 1933 -  

NGC Aug. 31, 1945 -

NGC June 3, 1960 -

NGC Jan. 1963 -

NGC Aug. 17, 1965 -

NGC Dec. 18, 1978 -

NGC (c.1979 +) -

NGC audio tapes dated September 14, 1973 -

(1) On the NGC information form completed after 1979, he writes "Have earned living as journalist most of my life."  As noted in the text, he worked as a newspaper editor for over 27 years and in semi-retirement was kept on as an associate editor. Source: NGC (c.1979 +)

(2) Sources: NGC information forms and audio tapes.

Note: In the audio tapes, Surrey said, he lived in a lot of different places in the first eleven years of his life, while his parents pursued business opportunities. He mentioned Vancouver, San Francisco, Sidney (Australia), Java, and England; and went on to say 'we moved every three months'. Other sources add India, Malaysia and Switzerland to the list. See "Modern Painting in French Canada" (1967), by Guy Viau (AskART book references); and Archives Canada -

(3) Sources: AskART Images; and museum illustrations and descriptions of mediums in the Canadian Heritage Information Network* data base.

(4) Source: National Gallery of Canada Artist's Page -

(5) All artist teachers and artist associates mentioned in this biography have their own pages in AskART.

(6) Education sources: NGC information forms and audio tapes.

(7) Sources: Ibid.

(8) Sources: Ibid.

(9) Exhibition sources: Ibid; A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume 9 (online only) (2009), by Anne Newlands and Judith Parker; the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art and the Art Gallery of Ontario, both have extensive archived catalogue summaries online; Four Decades: The Canadian Group of Painters and their Contemporaries, 1930 - 1970 (1972), by Paul Duval; Vancouver: Art and Artists 1931 - 1983 (1983), by Luke Rombout; Art Gallery of Ontario - The Canadian Collection (1970), by Helen Pepall Bradfield; Canadian Painting in the Thirties (1975), by Charles C. Hill; Modern Painting in Canada (1978), by Terry Fenton and Karen Wilkin; and The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction (2001), by Anthony R. Westbridge and Diana L. Bodnar (see AskART book references).

(10) Source: Ottawa Art Gallery -

(11) Source: Archives Canada -  

(12) Sources: NGC information forms and audio tapes; "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume 9 (online only)" (2009), by Anne Newlands and Judith Parker; and National Gallery of Canada Artist's Page -

(13) Source: Governor General of Canada -

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

Prepared and contributed to askART by M.D. Silverbrooke.



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

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About  Philip Henry Howard Surrey

Born:  1910 - Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Died:   1990 - Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Known for:  Painting, commercial art, draftsman, printmaking, teaching