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"Les Pauvres and Its Artist"

Museum and Art Notes, June 1929

By Mrs. W. Garland Foster

      For some years, the policy of the Art, Historical and Scientific Association in building up an art gallery in connection with the City Museum has been to purchase annually as many examples of work by Canadian artists as somewhat limited means will permit. In this way it is hoped that a representative collection will be built up. When space is available for larger displays, theere is the assurance that permanent loans will be made from various sources, so that there seems no immediate need of procuring old masters.

      The first picture to be owned by the Museum Art Gallery was a gift from Mower-Martin, a Canadian artist. Another artist who delighted to paint Pacific scenery was the late H.J. de Forrest (sic), several specimens of whose work adorn the walls of the museum. Any mention of art in this connection should not omit the name of Mr. Will Ferris, for many years Secretary-Curator of the Museum. From the inception of the Art, Historical and Scientific Association, Mr. Ferris took an enthusiastic interest in the art section, and the Museum owes much to his efforts. While Mr. de Forrest worked in oils, Mr. Ferris was recording the beauties of Vancouver in water colours. Now a nonagenarian, Mr. Ferris has many fine specimens of work in his own collection, but the Art Gallery is fortunate possessor of two very fine examples of his work: "The Wreck of the Beaver" and "Jericho Beach Cannery".

      During the war some very fine examples of Canadian etchings were procured, but this year marks the first purchase of a salon picture in the oil painting by Mary Riter Hamilton called "Les Pauvres".

      Mrs. Hamilton will be remembered as the Canadian artist who, at her own expense, went to Europe to paint the battlefields of France and Flanders as soon as the war was over. Several of these pictures are the property of the Amputations Club of Vancouver, under whose auspices Mrs. Hamilton went abroad for this work, but some 227 of them were sent by the artist as a gift to the Canadian nation, and are now to be found in the New Public Archives of Ottawa, where they were first exhibited in Canada in 1927. The first exhibition of these pictures was under the auspices of the French government, when the model for the inter-allied monument (the Pantheon of the Somme), to commemorate the drive of 1918, was exhibited in the foyer of the National Opera House, Paris; this being the first time that the foyer had been used for exhibition purposes. Later the pictures were displayed at the Simonson galleries. In recognition of her work at this time, Mrs. Hamilton was decorated with the Palmes Academiques by the Minister of Beaux Arts, M. Berard.

      This collection of war pictures could have been sold in Europe, but the artist preferred to bring them back to Canada, as a permanent record. Many others of her pictures have found homes in private collections in Canada, England and France. Her art career has been a long one, for she went to France while very young to devote herself to study. Some of the great masters of Europe have been among her teachers. Versatility has been an outstanding feature of her work. She has won honours in oils, water colours, pastels and etchings. In 1925 she won the gold medal in the British Section of Exposition Internationale et Industriels Modernes, Paris, for hand-painted dress accessories. In this she had seven entries; the beautiful scarf which took the prize was afterwards purchased for Lady Macdonald of Winnipeg.

      Mrs. Hamilton's first success in the French Salon was with "A Dutch Interior, Laren," in 1905, after which she had three - one water colour and two oils - hung on the line. "Les Pauvres", the success of 1909, was particularly fortunate, for that year large decorations by members of the Salon filled in most of the space, and only pictures of value were hung for outside exhibitors. This picture was exhibited in the Panama Exhibition of 1915. The Salon picture of 1922 was "Market Day Among the Ruins of Amiens," hung at Societe Nationale, three others being hung the same year at Societe des Artistes, while, in 1923, "Les Amies de Versailles" was exhibited at Versailles, and "The Cloth Hall at Ypres" at Notre Dame de Lorette.

      "Les Pauvres," which was painted in the artist's studio in Rue de la Grande Chaumiere in Paris, is from the same model used for her picture "Maternity." The model had been coming for several days to sit for the latter picture, when one rainy day she and her baby came in, and, while waiting for the artist to begin work, stood beside the stove in exactly the same attitude as in "Les Pauvres." Seeing them thus, Mrs. Hamilton felt the artistic quality of the pose and at once set to work on a new picture. The dull day was such a contrast to the bright ones during which she had worked on "Maternity" that she decided it would be better to work on one in keeping with the weather, so "Les Pauvres" was begun. While the picture was still unfinished a Boston artist of her acquaintance chanced to visit the studio, and, noticing it, at once advised that it be finished, as it had value as an exhibition piece.

      Such experiences have not been uncommon with Mrs. Hamilton, for on another occasion, when she was at work in a gallery with a number of students, Blanche, who was a severe critic and dreaded by the students, happening to drop in, twice called the attention of the class to fine points in the work of the portrait on which she was working.

      The Montreal Star said as early as 1912: "The only criticism which might apply is that her work is just a little in advance of the time. And yet this is not to blame; it may almost be called encouragement." So many press notices have followed this gifted artist's exhibitions that space forbids the use of more than a sample. The Paris edition of The Studio (previous to 1912) said:

      "Mrs. Hamilton's work has personality and distinction, and is proof of the fact, now undeniable, that when women painters exercise the gifts of their Creator, their greatness is supassed by man's only in so far as physical strength is concerned. Mrs. Hamilton's prolonged study in Paris, Berlin, Italy and Holland is the history of an ardent search to find one's self in one's own thought and one's own belief, and in manifold experience, which ultimately finds its expression. Her work in oils is strong and sincere, while her water colours impress one particularly by their charm of tranquility. They show a complete knowledge of the possibliities that lie in this process."       From The Monitor, Boston: "Admirers of the work of Mrs. Mary Riter Hamilton the Canadian artist, are greatly pleased at the tribute paid her by Charles Dana Gibson, the American illustrator. He spoke particularly of the work of Mrs. Hamilton, which he viewed in the company with Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Connaught, and is quoted as having said: 'Mrs. Hamilton has the power, she is an artist; she has made good, and does good work'.

      "Mrs. Hamilton's sketches are positively marvellous. Nor should this be the sole tribute to the credit of an artist whose work is bound to become world famed. This is said with all sincerity, there being every reason for believing that Mrs. Hamilton will progress far beyond the general average."

      The children of the devastated areas in France knew Mrs. Hamilton as "The Lady of the Apples." It seems that many of them had never seen an apple. The idea occurred to the artist to write to the Red Cross in Quebec and Montreal to send them fruit, so a carload of apples was sent and distributed by the Imperials with Mrs. Hamilton's help. Photographs and letters were went to the secretary of the Red Cross, Montreal, showing the appreciation, and one stated that "While the clothing sent may be forgotten, the Canadian apples never!"

      BIBLIOGRAPHY: Western Home Monthly, December, 1927; Echoes, March, 1928; Canadian Magazine, October, 1932; Studio, Paris edition, July 1912; Daily Mail, Paris edition, April 21, 1922.


"A Dutch Interior" (water colour), Salon, 1905; J.T. Emerson, Port Arthur.
"Abazia di St. Gregario," Salon, 1905; Hon. Robert Rogers, Winnipeg.
"Interior Same Courtyard" (oil), Salon, 1905; Toronto Collector.
"Lake Louise" (oil); Princess Patricia Ramsay.
"A Bridge in Venice" (oil), Salon, 1906; Duchess of Connaught.
"Spanish Fishing Village, Fontarabia" (oil); Duchess of Connaught.
"Evening in the Pyrenees" (oil); Duchess of Connaught.
"The Pantheon Interior" (oil); Dr. Ami, Ottawa.
"The Victory in the Louvre" (oil); Dr. Ami, Ottawa.
"Napoleon's Tomb" (oil); Dr. Ami, Ottawa.
"Notre Dame de Paris Interior" (oil); Dr. Ami, Ottawa.
"Notre Dame de Paris" (water colour); William R. Miller.
"The Castle Stair, Fontarabia" (oil); Sir Robert Borden.
"Les Pauvres" (oil), Salon, 1909; City of Vancouver Art Gallery.
"Les Sacrifices", 1911 Christmas frontispiece, "Pour Tous"; Toronto Collector.
Six Pastels, "Rapahannock"; Mrs. W.H. Coy, White Rock, B.C.
Lieutenant-Governors of British Columbia; Government House, Victoria.
Series of 227 War Pictures; Gift to Canada; Public Archives, Ottawa.
"French on Vimy Ridge."
Sugar Refinery at Ecurie."
"Villiers au Bois (1914-1919)"; Amputations Club, Vancouver.
"Vimy Ridge (1914-1919)"; reproduced in Gold Stripe.
"Canadian Stone Hut at Ablain, 1919."
"The Chateau Potijge"; General Sir Thomas Snow.
"The Castle Pool, Givernay" (oil); Sir Edward Clouston.
"The Mother Superior"; Lady Whyte, Winnipeg.
"Palm Sunday, A Scene In Brittany"; Mrs. Horace Crawford, Winnipeg.
"A Scene in Venice"; Lady Nanton, Winnipeg.
"The Woman at the Pump"; Canon Cody, Toronto.
"Portraits"; Dr. and Mrs. Young, Victoria; Col. and Mrs. Hart, Victoria.

Others who have pictures by this artist: Ald. J.A. Paton, Mrs. Jonathan Rogers, Mrs. Alice Winlow, Mrs. Arthur Wickson, Rev. W.G. Fortune, Vancouver; Lady Barnard, Miss Bruce, F.B. Pemberton, Mrs. Beaven, Dr. and Mrs. Robinson, and Seaman's Institute, Victoria; Sir Douglas and Lady Cameron, Mrs. W.M. Fisher, Mrs. Reid, Miss Adina Falconer, Mr. Frasers Sweatmans, Winnipeg; Sir H. Rowley, Chester Hamilton, William Hamilton, Toronto; Mrs. Foley, St. Paul, Minn.; Mrs. Somersett Aitkens, Dr. Colby, Mrs. W.D. Sutherland, Mrs. Wm. Miller, Dr. H.T. Stewart Nichol, T. Hall Pangman, T.I.M. Pangman, Mrs. George Coultie, Miss Lilly Barry, Mrs. Huntley Drummond, Col. Burland, Mr. Learmont, Joseph Badger, Mrs. MacIntosh, Montreal; Miss K. Adams, Isle of Wight; Miss Mary Coles, London, Eng.; Miss E. Bissell, and Mrs. Watson, Pasadena; Dr. Bowes, San Francisco; Miss Adel Watson, Kalil Gibson, New York City.

Editor's note: the article includes one photograph of Hamilton, captioned "Mrs. Mary Riter Hamilton Sketching Prisoners of War in France, 1919."