Art & Artists in Exhibition: Vancouver 1890 - 1950
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Mary Riter Hamilton

by J.E.H. Bruce

The Gold Stripe, Volume Two
May 1919

     Mrs. Mary Riter Hamilton, who takes her place in the very forefront of the small group of distinguished Canadian artists, made her first notable step up the stairway of fame some fifteen years ago when her first picture was accepted by the Paris Salon. Since then she has worked steadily, sometimes rapidly under the impulse of some enthusiasm, at other times more leisurely, but never at any time putting aside her brush in the way that is the invariable mark of the dilettante.

     Mrs. Hamilton is now in France on a special mission from the "Gold Stripe," and selections of her work will be reproduced in colors in the next volume.

     She lived most of her life in Bruce County, Ontario, prior to the time of her marriage and for a short time after. A born artist she had no opportunities for instruction during all these years, but, nevertheless, worked as best she could with the methods she herself created to express something of her innate longing to paint. It is interesting now in looking through even the small remnant of the pictures which she is leaving behind her in Vancouver and Victoria, to realize that until she went to Europe after the death of her husband she had never attempted anything but still life. For here in these two small collections of pictures, are vivid portrait studies, over and over again the human forms appearing either as the principal or secondary figure in these living canvases which express so much. It is another encouraging instance of the result of application and determination - coupled, as in most of the successful instances of great artists, with innate genius.

     It was to Berlin she went first after she decided to go to Europe to sudy. Curiously - and happily, as it turned out - her first teacher there was an Italian, Professor Scarbini. She retained her studio there for only eighteen months, spending part of this time in Venice on a sketching tour. When she decided to go to Paris she travelled deliberately, spending some months in Holland on the way through, and discovering the beauty of a country which she afterwards painted when her knowledge was broadened by more study.

     Paris realized all that she sought, and she stayed there studying for the next eight years with the exception of excursions into Italy and Spain and Holland for sketching, and the year which she spent in Canada. Always she worked in the Latin Quarter, her first studio being on the Rue de la Grand Chaumier, her last being on the Rue Notre Dame des Champs. Among the teachers under whom she worked in the Academy, were Merson, Gerbais, Le Roy and Blanche, all great portrait painters, and Simon, Menard, and Gastalucci.

     The first spring after taking up her residence in Paris, she returned to Holland, sketching for four months in and about Laren (near Amsterdam), a place made famous by Mauve, one of the most distinguished of the modern Dutch painters. One of the pictures which she painted at this time was hung in the Salon, indicating the rapid progress which the artist made, once the opportunities for study were placed in her way.

     The second spring after going to Paris, she returned once again to Venice, where she found the scenery and artistic atmosphere stimulating to art. During the two or three months that she was there she did a number of canvases, three of which eventually were hung in the Paris Salon. One of these, a canal scene, was purchased by the Princess Patricia just a few years ago when Mrs. Hamilton returned to Candad and exhibited her work for the first time on this side of the Atlantic. The two other Salon pictures painted at this time were also sold in Canada, one of them being in the collection of Sir Robert Rogers.

     One of Mrs. Hamilton's most prolific sketching tours was that she made to the Spanish side of the Pyrenees on her return to Europe after a year spent with her mother in Canada. The artistic atmosphere of this part of Europe proved very pleasing to her, and, although she is always a harsh judge of her own work, she ranks some of these Spanish things among her best. One of the pictures done at this time became the property of the Duchess of Connaught; another, a scene of an old castle, was purchased by Sir Robert Borden.

     Always a serious artist, her work appealed to the French, who are serious in all things pertaining to art. So it was not to be wondered at that "Les Sacrifices," which she did more in the experimental spirit than with any idea of winning against the great number of competitors who would be ranged against her, was accepted for the frontispiece of the Christmas number of "Pour Tous," in 1905. This was enviable recognition, and was a great surprise to Mrs. Hamilton herself. In 1909 she exhibited once more in the Salon, this time "Les Pauvres," which if one recalls aright, was shown in Canada.

     Having visited Venice on two or three occasions she decided in 1910 to go to Florence, and spent some very happy and busy weeks sketching there with an American lady. Some of this work, too, won great admiration from art critics both in Europe and on this continent.

     In 1911 Mrs. Hamilton returned to Canada owing to her mother's ilness (sic), and until the present has remained on this side of the Atlantic, most of the time spent in British Columbia. In Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg, and other places she has held exhibitions of her work before she came to Victoria some two years before the war to make her home. It was while in the British Columbia capital that she was given orders to paint the portraits of the Lieutenant-Governors of British Columbia from the earliest time down to the present, a task which she has just a few months ago completed, and the results of which are now hanging in Government House. Eighteen months ago she decided to go to Vancouver, where she has only awaited the opportunity that the end of the fighting in Europe would make for her to return to Paris. With the knowledge of her abiding love of her native land, of her admiration for the spendid men who went under arms across the sea to preserve the ideals of the Empire, Canada may confidently look for her return at some future time with records which will be fitting additions to the archives founded to preserve the history of the Dominion's part in the Great War.

     Fortunately for Victoria Mrs. Hamilton has left about fifty of her paintings at the home of Colonel E.C. Hart, Courtney street, and others are in Vancouver.


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