JOHN WILLIAM BEATTY, O.S.A., R.C.A.
oil on canvas
28 ins x 36 ins; 69.9 cms x 91.4 cms
John William Beatty (1869-1941) was central to the establishment of a distinctly Canadian approach to painting. He was a leading figure during the incipient years of the formation of Canada’s national school of painting - the Algonquin School.
As was the custom at that time, Beatty studied art at the academies in Europe. He returned to Canada in 1909, roughly concurrent with A.Y. Jackson and Lawren Harris, who also studied abroad. The idea of a national approach to painting was still nascent.
Eric Brown, director of the National Gallery wrote that he looked to Beatty and C. W. Jefferys to lead the way for the younger artists. At the insistence of the artist, Brown convinced the National Gallery to exchange a Dutch scene in their collection by Beatty for a newly completed picture by him, The Evening Cloud of the Northland (1910), thus establishing his credentials as a proponent of Canadian subject matter. This work and Algonquin Park forge a distinct approach. The elements of the composition are aligned horizontally, parallel to the picture plane, a screen of trees framing the view. Both paintings are grounded by a calm, underspoken majesty of nature, the fleeting effects of changing weather captured using Post -Impressionist technique. To that date, few painters had braved a painting of such a remote locale. It was a beacon to the aspiring new movement; it also became the standard format for Thomson paintings.
In 1912 Beatty became president of the Arts and Letters Club, the second home to the future members of the Group of Seven. In 1914, he was invited to take one of the six studios in the newly constructed Studio Building, alongside Harris, MacDonald, Jackson and Thomson.
Beatty and JEH MacDonald went to Algonquin Park in March of 1914 and met up with Jackson, who had travelled there that year for the first time, a full four years after Beatty. It is presumed that Beatty also made sketching trips with Thomson to Algonquin. (Following Thomson’s untimely death, Beatty designed the stonework and Macdonald provided the plaque for the cairn they erected at Canoe Lake in memory of Thomson.)
Rather surprisingly, Beatty was not invited to be a member of the Group of Seven or to exhibit in their inaugural Group of Seven exhibition held at the Art Gallery of Toronto in May 1920.
Throughout the remainder of his career Beatty returned to the tenets of Post-Impressionism and a rugged naturalism such as we witness with Algonquin Park.
Beatty was elected to the Ontario Society of Artists and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. His work is represented in numerous prestigious collections, including the National Gallery of Canada, Art Gallery of Ontario, University of Toronto Hart House, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the Canadian War Museum, among others.
Private Collection, Barrie, Ontario