Work & Bio

Robert F. Gagen

Born in 1847
 / Died in 1926

View biography... View selected works...

GAGEN, Robert Ford


Born in London, England, he came to Canada with his parents in 1862 and they settled near Seaforth, Ontario. His father was an architect and the boy had been interested in painting before coming to Canada. After the family had settled in Seaforth, Gagen received instruction from William Cresswell, R.A., who had come out from England to farm in the same area. Cresswell also gave him materials which were difficult to obtain in the new settlement. On Cresswell’s advice Gagen sent some of his paintings to provincial exhibitions where they were awarded prizes. Later Gagen went to Toronto with letters of introduction mainly from Cresswell and enrolled in the painting class of G. Gilbert. He got a job in the art department of Notman and Fraser where he worked under the direction of John A. Fraser. He spent nine years with the firm painting minia­tures and water colour portraits on a photographic base. During this time he also developed his landscape painting under the helping hand of Fraser and became an artist of note. A.H. Robson in 1934 wrote He drew the subject matter for his pictures from a wide-flung field, painting from the Rockies to the Atlantic. For many years he was widely known as a painter of the mountains, but without question his best work is in his painting of the sea . . . during his later years, he journeyed every summer to the Bay of Fundy to gather sketches and mate­rial for his winter’s work in the studio. His paintings of fishing boats, the rolling surf and the play of sunlight and shadow on the rocky coasts form his greatest gift to Canadian art. Gagen was a founding member of the Ontario Society of Artists in 1872 and later became the society’s permanent secretary.At the society’s meetings and exhibitions he was jocular, humorous, active and much esteemed. When the Royal Canadian Academy was founded in 1880 Gagen became an Associate Charter Member and in 1915 was elected full member. He was president of the Arts and Letters Club, Toronto (1919-20) and Commis­sioner of Fine Arts for the Canadian National Exhibition (1912-26). He was awarded honourable mention at the Pan-American Exhibition, Buffalo, 1901. Several of his paintings are in the National Gallery of Canada.

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