William Blair Bruce
A Canadian Artist
“The Phantom Hunter” 1881 William Blair Bruce
There were and are many amazingly talented artists in Canada. Paintings created by Canadian
born artists adorn the walls of art galleries across the world. People the world over are constantly being
awed by Canadian artist’s works and those of the dead and gone are no exception nor are the works of the
painter William Blair Bruce.
Blair Bruce was born in October 1859 in Hamilton, Ontario .He was the son of the calligrapher
and water-colourist William Bruce and Janet Blair. He took painting lessons from his father, from John
Herbert Caddy, and from Henry Martin, and briefly went to the Hamilton Art School in 1877.It took
Three years after attending art school for Bruce to decide finally on a career: to become an artist.
Like many artists Blair Bruce decided to further his art career by training and exhibiting in Paris.
So, in 1881 with the financial support of his mother, grandmother and aunt he sailed to Liverpool and
went from there to Paris. He wrote home regularly these letters have provided an invaluable record of his
time in Europe .In Paris he entered the académie Julian and primarily studied oil painting. Bruce proved
himself as an incredible artist in 1882 when his landscape painting Une lisière de la forêt – matin was
included in the annual Paris Salon. For two years afterward he labored toward making a painting that
would win him a salon prize though his painting brought no such prize, Bruce was down on money and
feeling defeated. In 1885 he sailed home to recuperate, only to suffer a worse blow, the ship transporting
around two hundred of his works meant to be displayed in Toronto, Hamilton, and London sank off Île
d’Anticosti and were lost.
On 4 Dec. 1888 in Stockholm Bruce married a wealthy Swedish sculptor, Carolina Benedicks.
They then built a house on Gotland Island in Sweden. Though he had amazing potential Blair Bruce’s
reputation suffered after moving to Sweden because of the wide variety of his subjects(from landscapes
and portraits to mythological scenes)and that his painting style changed back and forth with every new
artwork. Yet in his day Bruce enjoyed widespread recognition in Europe as well as an exhibition record
that included, in Paris, the prestigious Salon 15 times between 1882 and 1906 and the universal
exposition of 1900 (at which, in his words, “it appears” he was awarded a medal); the Royal Academy of
Arts in London; the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in Toronto; an exhibition of over 130 works in
Stockholm in 1897; the Pan-American Exposition of 1901 in Buffalo, N.Y., where he won a gold medal;
and a posthumous retrospective of 122 works held in Paris in 1907. Maurice Galbraith Cullen, a major
figure in Canadian art, was greatly influenced by William Blair Bruce and also was shown in the salon.
A career that might have been far more famous was left behind by Bruce who ,in a true Canadian
manner, decided that he would paint what he wanted in whatever style he wanted and if people didn’t like
that it was not his problem. A Collection of Bruce’s paintings circulates through Canadian art galleries
continuing to inspire young would-be artists and he has a permanent show at the Owens art gallery in
Sackville new Brunswick (both shows I have seen and loved) Though William Blair Bruce may not have
affected the history of Canadian art like other artists he never gave up and I strongly believe he is a
brilliant artist and a Canadian to be proud of.
Painting in Canada: A History by J. Russell Harper