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A VIRTUAL EXHIBITION designed to accompany a real exhibition at the Mendel Art Gallery from Nov. 12, 1999 to Jan. 9, 2000. It includes most of the artists in the Mendel exhibition as well as background information on the British watercolour tradition and images or work by some of the major artists of the British school.

Reta Cowley <--   --> A. C. Leighton

THIS EXHIBITION SURVEYS landscape painters who have worked in watercolour in the Canadian prairie provinces. Many of them were born and/or trained in England and, of those born in Canada, most developed strong connections with the British traditions of both watercolour and landscape. The exhibition lends credence to a long-held suspicion that painting in prairie Canada is rooted in the British landscape and watercolour tradition.

Most of the works were chosen from public collections in the prairie provinces and to some extent the exhibition is coloured by their various collecting habits and mandates. As a result, some artists have been overlooked. Representation in public collections was affected by the fact that watercolour panting in the past was bound up with amateurism, much as photography is today, and nowadays seems too far from the "cutting-edge" to be collected in earnest.

I chose to include visiting artists from the early years (Lucius O'Brien through C. W. Jefferies) who sought exotic subjects in the West, but I felt obliged to exclude some accomplished recent visitors like Toni Onley and Milton Avery. The tradition really begins when artists began to settle in the West in the early 20th century.

To my surprise, the tradition of working directly from nature in watercolour seems to have been concentrated in two prairie cities: Calgary and Saskatoon. The fact that Calgary was so close to the mountains was a powerful incentive -- it brought A. C. Leighton from England and was a major reason why Walter Phillips relocated from Winnipeg in 1941. Saskatoon's tradition began in the '30s with Hurley and Lindner (one of the rare non-British artist-immigrants) but gained momentum in the '40s and '50s. By the '50s Reta Cowley, who studied with Phillips in Banff and then Eli Bornstein in Saskatoon, carried the tradition forward and modernized it. Emma Lake Summer Schools and Artists Workshops strengthened the tradition, itself, as well as its modernization.


I'VE MISSED MANY deserving artists and have very insubtantial information about many of those included. If you find errors or fact or interpretation please contact Terry Fenton by clicking on the envelope or the following e-mail link.


IMAGE QUALITY IS variable at best. Most of the images, especially of the Canadian works, were scanned from snapshots taken in gallery storage rooms for the most part using a small Advantix system camera with built-in flash. In some cases the pictures were under glass. I scanned, straightened, and colour corrected these from memory. I apologize for where they depart from the originals. As they can't approach print-reproduction quality, copyright infringement for commercial purposes should be impossible.


My thanks to George Moppett and the Mendel Art Gallery staff, the lenders to the exhibition, especially The Mendel itself, the Edmonton Art Gallery, Lethbridge University and the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, The Glenbow Museum, the Leighton Foundation and private lenders, especially John Crabb, who was generous in showing so much of his exhaustive collection. The English Novelty exhibition took place a year and a half before the Prairie section. For that exhibition I was indebted to curators Richard Hemphill at the National Gallery of Canada and Katharyn Lochnan of the Art Gallery of Ontario as well as to their respective institutions for lending such fragile and beautiful work.

I'm indebted to the historians and curators who have sorted through and written about prairie artists through the years. I'm especially indebted to Marketa Newman, whose biographies of male and female Saskatchewan artists are worthy of emulation in other provinces.