Albert Robinson

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Artist CV:
Albert H. Robinson

Born: Hamilton, Ontario, 02 January 1881
Died: Montreal, Quebec, 07 October 1956

ROBINSON, Albert Henry


Born in Hamilton, Ontario, the son of William Wesley and Emma (Dewart) Robinson. He attended primary and secondary school in Hamilton and he spent considerable time drawing on margins of his school books. In high school he was expelled for one month when caught passing illustrated flirtation notes back and forth among male and female classmates. The punishment although severe didn't seem to spoil his reputation as an artist and he received commissions from his classmates (who paid as much as twenty-five dollars) for his romantic illustrations in pencil, ink or water colour enclosed in gilded frames. Sometime after finishing high school he heard that the Hamilton Times chief illustrator had gone to the Brooklyn Eagle and his job was open. Robinson took a batch of his drawings to the newspaper and was hired at a salary of five dollars a week. His job was to illustrate scenes of murders, accidents and other sensational events of the day. He also did political cartoons. He sketched on chalk plates after which molten metal was poured over them and matrices made. In his spare time he studied at the Hamilton Art School under John S. Gordon. After two years with the Hamilton Times his salary rose to nine dollars a week. He saved every possible dollar for study abroad. He left for Paris in 1903 and for the first year studied at the Académie Julian under Bourgereau and Baschet producing sufficiently high level of work to gain entry into the Ecole des Beaux­Arts to study drawing under Gabriel Ferrier. He experimented with oil painting on his own. Then during the summers he took further study with American artist Thomas William Marshall in Normandy and Corsica (1903-05). He returned home following a bout with typhoid. Back in Hamilton, John S. Gordon hired him to work as a studio assistant giving Robinson added experience. Then he was hired where Gordon taught, to instruct in life classes at the Hamilton Art School. In 1906 he exhibited his paintings for the first time and sold his first oil painting to Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, the Honourable J.M. Gibson. About 1908 he met two important people in his career direction, Mr. & Mrs. William I. Davis of Montreal, who invited him to that city and offered to pay his rent for a studio located on Phillips Square. Through the Davises he met other artists and was soon on friendly terms with three important painters, William Brymner, Edmund Dyonnet and Maurice Cullen. Robinson painted scenes in and around Montreal during the winter and summers at the harbour, the docks, the grain elevators and the boats. He got around the harbour through his cousin, Robert Aiken the harbour paymaster. His harbour scenes were done in colourful impressionistic style. In 1910 Robinson met A.Y. Jackson and they became good friends. Over a billiard table one day they decided to take a sketching tour of Europe. They sailed on the Sicilian, an Allen Line passenger ship which went directly to Le Havre. On their passage over amusing times were had, kindled by the mix of English and French passengers. In a playful mood Robinson would spar with a ship's ventilator imagining he was boxing with Jack Johnson, a champion, as Robinson was a keen boxing fan. This light hearted mood prevailed and amused other passengers. As Jackson was fluent in French the two artists sat with French passengers to brush up on Jackson's conversational skill. Finally they landed at Le Havre and moved on to St. Malo where they stayed with a French family. From there they moved to Carhaix in Brittany where they settled down to do some sketching. Robinson, an artist who worked with an economy of time and effort sat and waited for effects of light and arranged the elements of his picture on the canvas - whether it be the fishing schooners, market carts, people or other objects to achieve the desired composition. Most artists would spend precious time looking for ready made subjects in various locations. After four months Robinson became homesick and short of money so he left Jackson to return to Montreal. The two artists were not to meet again for some years. When war was declared, Jackson went into the army and Robinson to the war industry as inspector of munitions. Later Robinson was selected as artist for the Canadian War Memorials depicting activities of the Vickers Shipbuilding plant in Montreal. Several of his canvases are now in the Canadian war collections. Robinson had seen the picturesque villages along the St. Lawrence on his return from France. After the war he joined Jackson on sketching trips to many of these places including Cocouna, La Malbaie, St. Tite des Caps, Baie St. Paul, Les Eboulements, Bienville and elsewhere. During his trip to Cacouna he did the sketch for his painting "Returning From Easter Mass" 1922 (AGO). He later gave this painting to a neighbour for a kindness. In the years that followed he painted "Winter, Baie St. Paul" 1923 (MMFA); "The Open Stream" 1923, purchased by the French government in 1927; "The Bridge, Baie St. Paul, 1924 (Canada House, Lond., Eng.); "A Village on The Gulf", 1924 (AGO); "Moontime in The Hills", 1925 (NGC); "La Malbaie, Winter", 1926 (Mus. PQ); "Falling Snow, Baie St. Paul", 1926 (AGH) and his remarkable "Moonlight Saint-Tite-Des-Caps", 1941 (NGC) and scores of other canvases done over too brief a painting career. In the foreword to Robinson's 1955 retrospective exhibition catalogue Robert W. Pilot noted, "His canvases and sketches with their subtle and distinguished colour delight us by their gently evocative quality. He is what I like to call a 'painter's painter'. Some critics have linked his name with that of James Wilson Morrice; for both painters have interpreted the landscape of the lower St. Lawrence, seeing in it their own vision of La Nouvelle France. As a student, Robinson arrived in France at perhaps the most exciting period in modern painting. It was then that the impressionists were showing us how wonderful and enchanting, how immediate and lively the every­day life of the city streets and rivers and villages could be. Today we see the world through their eyes. Robinson's style had its beginning in this milieu. To me it is the marvel of his vision that makes his art so completely personal. No signature need be put to his work, for it is already signed by his own individual interpretation of the subjects which inspired him." Joan Murray in the Canadian Collector described Robinson's work as follows, "Jackson's influence on Robinson has always been clear. The road meandering into the distance which Jackson discovered in James Wilson Morrice, the rolling rhythms of the hillside, the view across the landscape, became his signature. What Robinson introduced was an unusual colour element - pinks, corals, dark blue. His skies are coloured boldly and unrealistically like a stage-set backdrop. And he orchestrated the effect of space. He was concerned throughout his painting career, short as it was, with the creation of more simplified, powerful form - he wanted to eliminate the trivial." Robinson also sketched with Clarence Gagnon, Edwin Holgate, Randolph Hewton, not all together but in smaller groups. Jackson once pointed out Robinson's economy of operation during their visit to Clarence Gagnon's cottage at Bienville, Baie Saint Paul, "In contrast to Gagnon, who would ski for miles to find an old house or barn to sketch, Robinson did not travel far to sketch. Robinson would improvise and find compositions within a few hundred yards; one day he found a fine subject a few feet from Gagnon's house." From about 1918 to 1933 Robinson made painting trips along the St. Lawrence and into the Laurentian Hills. After that, ill health forced him into retirement by 1933. He had bouts of ill health as early as 1926 as related by his art dealer William Watson, who having held a successful one-man show of his work in 1926, had hopes of holding a second in 1927. Robinson was unable to paint a sufficient number of canvases for the occasion because of his poor health. Over the years his solo shows include: The Arts Club, Mtl. (1920); Watson Art Galleries (1926); West End Art Gallery, Mtl. (1950); The Art Gallery of Hamilton/National Gallery of Canada (retrospect. 1955); Walter Klinkhoff Gallery, Mtl. (1961); University of Guelph/Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery, Ont. (1968); Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery, Ont. (1982 travelling to seven other cities). He has participated in many group shows including the Royal Canadian Academy; Ontario Society of Artists; Spring Exhibitions of the Art Association of Montreal; Group of Seven; British Empire Exposition, Wembley, Eng. (1925); Musée du Jeu de Paume, Paris (1927); A Century of Canadian Art, Tate Gallery, Lond., Eng. (1938); World's Fair, NYC, USA (1939); Canadian Art 1760-1943, Yale Univ. Art Gallery (1944) and many others. His awards include: Bronze Medal, Sesquicentennial International Exposition, Philad., Pa. (1926); Jessie Dow Prize, Art Assoc. Mtl. (1928). Member: A.R.C.A. (1911); R.C.A. (1920); C.G.P. (Found. Member, 1933). He died in 1956 at the age of 75 in Montreal and was survived by his wife the former Marian E. Russell and a brother, George of Toronto. He is represented in the following collections: London Regional Art Gallery, Ont.; Art Gallery of Hamilton, Ont.; Art Gallery of Ontario, Tor.; McMichael Canadian Collection, Kleinburg, Ont.; National Gallery of Canada, Ott., Ont.; Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Mtl., Que.; Musée du Québec, Que.; Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris, France; Morgan Trust Company, Mtl.; Power Corp., Mtl., and others.

Colin S. MacDonald

A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, volumes 1-8 by Colin S. MacDonald, and volume 9 (online only), by Anne Newlands and Judith Parker
National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada