Roberts Gallery BlogApril 2, 2020 /
John William Beatty’s role in the development of Canadian art is largely uncelebrated and a powerful field sketch such as this, painted at the height of his career, is a rare artistic treasure. It is also an early painted experience of the Canadian northland which would define the substance and spirit of a national school in this country. Toward that end, Beatty must be considered a pioneer and the most influential teacher of his generation.
Beatty’s teachers represented the first generation of Canadian artists who had classically trained in France: Frederick Bell-Smith, William Cruickshank, J.W.L Forster, and George Reid. It was, in fact, at Roberts Gallery, Toronto, where Beatty held his earliest exhibition in 1899 to fund his first formative sojourn in Paris during which he studied at the Académie Julian. The basis of academic instruction there was the nude human figure and Beatty distinguished himself for his draughtsmanship. Upon his return, and now as an elected member of the Ontario Society of Artists, Beatty took an active role in the artistic life in Toronto. In an OSA document of 1903, co-written by Beatty and sent to Prime Minister Laurier, he advocated for a duty on all imported artworks which he described as “the sweepings of the studios of England, Holland, France …” in favor of creating “a sound and good Canadian School of Painting”1. This sentiment, also evidenced in his choice of local Canadian landscapes exhibited at the annual exhibitions of the OSA, RCA, and CNE during the first decade of the twentieth century, made him a pioneer of that nationalist aspiration which would give rise to the Group of Seven in 1920. As early as 1909, Beatty’s sketching trips to the northern Ontario wilderness would point the way, literally and idealistically, for others to follow. He was the first to visit Algonquin Park and his work there inspired and influenced his friend Tom Thomson who began painting in earnest in 1911. Thomson’s own enthusiasm for the Park brought a group of friends to visit him there in March 1914: Beatty and J.E.H. MacDonald arrived together to meet A.Y. Jackson at Mowat Lodge on Canoe Lake; Thomson would join them in April. It is while on this trip that Beatty most likely painted the subject painting here.
- Farr, Dorothy. J. W. Beatty 1869-1941. Kingston: Agnes Etherington Art Centre, 1980. p.41