Work & Bio

Sarah Robertson

Born in 1891
 / Died in 1948

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Sarah Robertson
1891 – 1948

Born in Montreal, Quebec, 16 June 1891
Died in Montreal, Quebec, 06 December 1948

Sarah Robertson studied and worked in Montreal, and her images of the urban and rural environment were painted in and around the city, on the Île d’Orléans, and in rural Vermont. Although primarily a landscape painter in oil, she also painted watercolours and still lifes. At the Art Association of Montreal she studied under William Brymner, Maurice Cullen, and Randolph Hewton and was awarded honours in Life Drawing, Painting and Composition. Her paintings were included in the 1924 and 1925 exhibitions of Canadian art at Wembley, England, and she was invited to contribute to the Group of Seven exhibitions in 1928, 1930, and 1931.

Robertson was at the centre of the group of women who painted and worked together for many years after the Beaver Hall Group (1920-21) disbanded. This association of nineteen Montreal artists, eight of whom were women, had been committed to developing distinctive artistic visions, while acknowledging the influence of the Group of Seven and French modernism. From this time, Robertson maintained a long correspondence with A.Y. Jackson, who had a great respect for her critical judgment. She and the artist Prudence Heward were particularly close friends over a thirty-year period, and some of Robertson’s paintings were inspired by her visits to the Hewards’ summer home near Brockville.

Robertson was a founding member of the Canadian Group of Painters in 1933, and exhibited with them for many years. This group was instrumental in establishing a new direction for Canadian art, expressing the diversity of the Canadian experience of the landscape, and building on the vision of the Group of Seven, which had disbanded in 1932.

Robertson’s work was recognized in a memorial exhibition held at the National Gallery in 1951.

Courtesy the National Gallery of Canada

A painter of colourful and vivacious landscapes, Sarah Robertson spent most of life in Montreal, rarely venturing further than Ontario or Vermont for her subject matter. After studying under William Brymner, Maurice Cullen, and Randolph Hewton, she joined the loosely-knit Beaver Hall Group, which included such artists as Edwin Holgate, A.Y. Jackson, and Kathleen Morris among its members. Perhaps most importantly, she became close friends with Prudence Heward, who often invited her to her family’s summer home in Brockville, Ontario where they painted together. Influenced by Impressionism, Fauvism and, to a lesser extent, the Group of Seven, Robertson is known for her rich colours, and the sumptuous, jewel-like quality of her work. In addition to landscapes, she also made chalk drawings, black and white designs, and painted murals for private houses. She was not particularly prolific, generally completing only three to four canvasses in a productive year, most now in private collections. Her work has rarely been shown outside of Canada, where she exhibited with groups such as the Art Association of Montreal (1919-45), the Royal Canadian Academy (1920-23, 1925-27, 1934), the Canadian Group of Painters (1933-1934,1936-39, 1942,1947), and the Ontario Society of Artists (1927-30), though her paintings were in the Wembley exhibitions in England, and at the Riverside Museum in New York City the year before her death. She is represented in the collections of the University of Alberta, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the National Gallery of Canada and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, among others.

Courtesy Canadian Women Artists History Initiative