This Week in History


A Canadian Artist for Inspiration

For the week of Monday August 9, 2010

On August 10, 1865, James Wilson Morrice was born in Montréal, Quebec. A Canadian painter of international renown, Morrice was among the earliest Canadian modernist painters.

Venice, Looking Out over the Lagoon, ca. 1904, by James Wilson Morrice
© Courtesy of  MMFA, Brian Merrett
From a wealthy merchant class family, Morrice was successful in his study of law, but soon desired to be a painter. With the support of his father, he went to Paris, the centre of the art world, where he studied at the Académie Julien in 1892. He later set up his art studio in Paris, which he maintained all his life, and he showed his work on a regular basis.

Morrice was a charming personality and was well liked, though he enjoyed solitude. Throughout his life, Morrice was influenced in his work by many well-known artists, including American painter J.M. Whistler, Canadian painter Maurice Galbraith Cullen, and his close friends, American painter Robert Henri and French painter Henri Matisse. While Cullen influenced Morrice to use bright colours to paint the Canadian winter in works such as The Ferry, Québec, and The Ice Bridge, his night scenes demonstrate the influences of Whistler and Henri. Meanwhile, Morrice’s later use of warm colours and experimentation with lighting is evidence of his experience working alongside Matisse in North Africa, where he frequently travelled after the First World War. His many travels to Europe, Canada, the United States, the Caribbean, and Africa allowed him to employ a variety of techniques and colour pallets to paint unique landscapes and urban settings.

Canadians in the Snow by James Wilson Morrice, CWM 19710261-0805, Beaverbrook Collection of War Art
© Canadian War Museum

Morrice’s habit before working on a large canvass in his studio was to create smaller oil works on wooden panels; his many sketchbooks are filled with subjects ranging from cafés and city buildings to human figures and landscapes. His work appeared in 140 exhibitions at more than 36 centres and art galleries in North America and Europe. Although not recognized in Canada until after his death, Morrice was centered in Paris throughout his career, and continued to visit Canada every winter until his father’s death in 1914. In 1913, he was commissioned by the Canadian government as a war painter, and captured Canadian soldiers in Canadians in the Snow. Posthumously, his fame and influence on the next generation of Canadian artists grew. James Wilson Morrice died in Tunis, Tunisia (North Africa) on January 23, 1924.

As an influential painter of international renown, James Wilson Morrice was designated as a National Historic Person in 1954. Maurice Galbraith Cullen was designated in 1944.

To view more of James Wilson Morrice’s work, please visit the National Gallery of Canada's website.

To read more about Canadian artists, please read the following This Week in History stories in our archives: A.J. Casson: The Youngest of the Group of Seven, Canada on Public DisplayFarewell to Famed International Painter Lawren S. HarrisLawren S. Harris and His Original LandscapesThe Legend of Tom Thomson, Birthday of Artist Robert Harris and A Great Inuit Artist and Photographer.

Date Modified: