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George Reid, Canadian Artist

In this photo from the Toronto Star the image is reversed.
See the mural Ericson Discovering North America, 1000 A.D.

I have found three books with information on George Reid, the artist who painted the murals in the auditorium of Jarvis Collegiate. Relevant passages from the first, Masterpieces of Canadian Art from the National Gallery of Canada, can be seen by clicking on the small image of Mortgaging the Homestead.

Mortgaging the Homestead (1890)
George Reid, National Gallery of Canada
To see a larger version of the painting, with commentary from the book Masterpieces
of Canadian Art from the National Gallery of Canada
, click on the image above.

Passages from the other two books follow:

2. MacTavish, Newton, The Fine Arts in Canada (Macmillan, Toronto, 1925). Facsimile edition published by Coles Publishing Company, Toronto, 1973.

This book, published in 1925, before Reid worked at Jarvis, was "among the first, if not the very first, comprehensive survey of the art scene in Canada." It includes a chapter devoted exclusively to George Reid.

Note: The author is sometimes unconventional with his punctuation.

Chapter 13

"Everyone who knows must acknowledge that for at least thirty years in Canada George Reid has been the outstanding chmapion of art and the importance that artistic application imparts to many of our common, day-by-day activities. Not content with impressing the people's need of painting, which is his profession, he has sriven to get an expression of art into our buildings, into our parks and highways, into our civic life, into manufactures, and indeed into many contrivances that we are only too prone to regard as being exclusively utilitarian.

"Before he became Principal of the Ontario College of Art Reid had experienced many vicissitudes, and together with his wife, Mary Hiester Reid, had contributed much to the art spirit of the country. He is a native of Ontario, being born at Wingham in 1860. After three years training at the Ontario School of Art in Toronto during the years from 1879 to '82, he studies for another three years at the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, under Thomas Eakins, and from there went to Pairs, where he entered the Julian Academy and worked under Benjamin Constant. Later he studied at the Prado Museum, Madrid. Returning to Canada, he joined the Ontario Society of Artists and from 1887 to 1901, was its president. In 1890 he was elected a member of the Royal Canadian Academy and sixteen years later became its president. During these years he was an indefatigable worker. He produced a number of important pictures, notably The Story, Mortgaging the Homstead, The Flute Player, Berry Pickers, Logging, Family Prayer, The Home Seekers, A Modern Madonna, The Blue Print, and The Foreclosure of the Mortgage. These paintings were done in a solid, almost severe manner, and a number of them were exhibited at the Paris Salon, and the Foreclosure of the Mortgage was exhibited at the English Royal Academy. They are frankly subject pictures of the genre type, sometimes have a forcible dramatic appeal, but never sickly sentimental or overly realistic.

In this manner he won a number of medals at the World's Fair, Chicago, the Mid-Winter Exhibition, San Francisco, at the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition at St. Louis, and represented Canada on the Jury of Awards at the Pan-American Exhibition at Buffalo. Reid has consistently opposed the "taboo" placed on the subject picture, and in various ways has declared his belief in art for life's sake as opposed to "art for art's sake". On this account and because he believed in the subject and its elevation toward the "Grand Manner" he began to depart from realism, with the result that he became one of the pioneers in mural painting in Canada. As a public benefaction and encouragement to others, he made decorative panels for the entrance and main corridors of the City Hall, Toronto, taking as a subject The Pioneers, and he did much work of a similar character for private houses. He strove with success to produce soft, harmonious toanl effects, and indeed in much of his work, including landscape, the decorative element soon became dominant. He never tired of imparting whatever knowledge he could to others, and that disposition led naturally to his place at the head of the Ontario College of Art. His influence, therefore, on art and artists, especially in Ontario, must be very widespread. He was as well a leader in the artistic life, of Toronto, and in Wychwood Park, where he lives, he was able to give expression to his idea of artistic residential environment. In this respect he was ably supported by his first wife, Mary Hiester Reid, who was an artist of great charm, and later by his second wife, Mary Wrinch Reid, who was also an artist of much distinction.

"But Reid was a great deal of his time in causes and movements that he had to fight almost alone. When he became president of the Academy in 1906, he found the National Gallery at Ottawa, which was and still is the repository of the diploma painting of Academicians, in a deplorable condition. He moved immediately to have the conditions improved, and it was he who, working through the council of the Academy, was largely instrumental in getting the Government to appoint a director and an Advisor Arts Council to look after the gallery. He succeeded in having a by-law passed by which Canadian artists who make a reputation abroad may become full or honorary academicians without first becoming associates. Under this clause Horatio Wlker became a member, and James Wilson Morrice, being a resident of Paris, became an honorary member.

"Reid, however, had had good training for this work. He had been President of the Ontario Society of Artists, accepting that position at a time when the Society needed some one with his enthusiasm and public spirit. He had worked unswervingly for united action by art bodies in all matters affecting artists, and although he had had to face antagonism and suffer much discouragement he had never let go until he had seen the Ontario Society of Artists rise in the Dominion. And he had had the further satisfaction of seeing, and has since seen, such groups as the Canadian Art Club and the Group of Seven take some of their ablest painters from the ranks of the Society without preventing the Society from going ahead as if nothing had happened. It was during his Presidency of the O.S.A. that he originated the movement for the institution of an Art Gallery for Toronto, which was incorporated in 1900, and he acted as its honorary secretary under the Presidency of Sir Edmund Walker till 1912, when E. R. Grieg, the curator, was appointed. The Canadian Society of applied Art, which held a number of Annual Exhibitions, was organized by him, and he was a regular exhibitor beside being for a time the vice-president of the Society.

"As already indicated Reid, perhaps mre than any other person, has striven to arouse Canadians to the importance of mural decoration, beginning as early as 1894 with suggestions for the od Union Station, Toronto, and in successive years with schemes and suggestions for the City Hall, Toronto, the Parliament Buildings, Toronto, and the Parliament Buildings, Ottawa. He was active in the Guild of Civic Art and indeed in most movements that had art as their ideal."

3. Harper, J. Russell, Painting in Canada: A History, 2nd ed. (University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1977).

The Group of Seven regarded Reid as a significant figure in the development of Canadian art, one of their "pioneers and encouragers," according to J. E. H. MacDonald. "Reid's City Hall Murals meant much to us," wrote MacDonald. Reid painted his City Hall murals in 1897-99 at his own expense to promote mural painting in Canada. (Harper, p. 264)

The Solemn Land (1921)
J. E. H. MacDonald
National Gallery of Canada
"Reid, George Agnew (1860-1947). b. Wingham, Ont. Studied at Central Ontario School of Art under Robert Harris and John A. Fraser 1879-82, at Pennsylvania Academy, Philadelphia under Thomas Eakins 1882-5, and at Académies Julien and Colarossi, Paris 1888-9. Painted principally in Toronto. Taught at Ontario College of Art 1890-1928. OSA 1885, ARCA 1885, RCA 1890, PRCA 1906-7. d Toronto." (Harper, p. 425)

"Tom Thomson acted as an inspirational catalyst for the Group philosophy which in turn echoed the earlier efforts of Jefferys, Reid, and their circle." (Harper, p. 266)

The Jack Pine
Tom Thomson
National Gallery of Canada

"George Reid, an Ontario farm boy from Huron County whose first contact with art was a visit to William Cresswell's studio, became one of the best-known Canadian genre painters of his generation. His career was so long that it is difficult to reconclie his Royal Ontario Museum murals of the 1930s, his genre of nearly half a century earlier, and his historical and landscape painting of the intervening years. He received his first instruction from the Notman artists and teachers at the old Ontario School of Art and Design in Toronto, then studied under Thomas Eakins in Philadelphia; a powerful self-portrait done at this time demonstrated his youthful decisiveness. Paul Peel himself ushered Reid and his young bride into the Parisian art scene in 1888. Boulanger at the Julian had just died. Peel declared that Benjamin Constant, who had replaced him, was the most enlightened teacher in Paris. The three Canadians enrolled under Constant, and astonished fellow-students by using an oil sketch technique to wash their entire painting rather than first preparing the usual elaborate tonal studies. Eakins and Constant both favoured this method (it appears in the study for Peel's After the Bath).

"Reid took a studio the next year in the Toronto Arcade. He felt ready to meet the world as a 'finished' artist. Reid had always thought of himself as a Canadian, but other students who went to Paris had difficulty re-orienting themselves to Canadian themes, since their work abroad had no Canadian content. ... George Reid, on the other hand, always represented Canadian scenes even when he was abroad. When painting a Canadian lumbering scene in Paris, he hired Parisian workmen to pose along the Seine as Canadians would have done." Mortgaging the Homestead (National Gallery of Canada) and Family Prayer (Victoria University), painted in Toronto, echo the country life he had known as a boy. The autobiographical recalls stolen hours in the hay mow. Toronto Water Front, July 1886 (Metropolitan Public Library) is filled with the light of Venetian canvases translated into the local setting. Later he painted Canadian historical scenes in a genre manner ... "(Harper, p. 215-6)

"Artists throughout Canada were painting genre at the century's end ... Franklin Brownell's paintings of school boys differed little stylistically from those of George Reid ... Like Reid, he evolved late in life into a rather prosaic landscape painter when fashion changed to favour a new subject matter for which he had not feeling." (Harper, p. 217)

Elisabeth Beattie, a student at Jarvis, wrote an article about George Reid entitled "George Reid: Forgotten Artist". Published in 1998 in the student newspaper, the Jargon, Beattie includes some details not found in the sources above, as well as a heart-felt call not to forget Reid, "that rarest of birds, a passionate Canadian patriot."