John Lyman, C.G.P., C.A.S. (1886-1967)

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Born in Biddeford, Maine, U.S.A., at his maternal grandfather's home, the son of Frederic G. Lyman and Mary Isabel Goodwin. His father had been living in Vancouver and was in the process of moving to Montreal to establish a drug wholesale business. The Lymans finally settled in their new location in Montreal. John had an older brother who died, and when he was three years old, his mother died. He attended the Abigdon School and later the Montreal High School and spent his summers at Biddeford with his mother's parents. At the age of fourteen he sailed for Europe with his father and they also visited the Mediterranean and the Near East before returning to Paris in the spring of 1901. They arrived back in Montreal, then John enrolled at the Hotchkiss School at Lakeville, Connecticut. At this school he was an Associate Editor of the Hotchkiss Record and his interest in writing began to show itself. In 1905 he entered McGill University with a definite penchant for writing. He found literature taught by Paul Lafleur the only course of interest.

 

In the spring of 1907 he departed for France to spend his summer holidays. After arriving there he went directly to the National Salon show in Paris where among other works he saw a winter scene of the St. Lawrence River by James Wilson Morrice. Now very keen about art he enrolled in the drawing classes of Marcel Béronneau, a figure and landscape painter. Shortly afterwards Lyman made his first landscape sketches in oils at St. Jean-du-Doigt in Britanny.

 

 In the autumn of 1907 he entered the Royal College of Art, South Kensington, London. He wrote letters to his father explaining that he wanted to become an artist. His father had favoured architecture or interior decoration for his son to follow. At the Royal College he studied architectural design and life drawing, but favouring Paris by far, he left London in early January of 1908 and enrolled at the Académie Julian. During this year he met James Wilson Morrice and visited his studio. In the autumn he made a brief trip to Montreal then returned to his studies at the Académie Julian. He rented a studio at 83 Boulevard Montparnasse.

 

 In the spring of 1909 he saw a painting by Henri Matisse at the Salon des Indépendants entitled Fontainebleau Forest. Its intensity haunted his dreams and he resolved to learn more about this artist. In the meantime he spent the summer at Etaples where he met the English artist Matthew Smith. In the autumn they both enrolled in the Académie Matisse which Lyman described in these words, Matisse visited us only once a fortnight and then his criticism usually took the form of a long chat about fundamental principles and qualities. We were about fifteen in the school. The late Edward Bruce was massier. Besides Matthew Smith there was Per Krog who became a leading painter in his native Norway, Hans Purrmann, a number of other Germans and Scandinavians, and some Austrian women whose most memorable aesthetic gift was their own blond beauty.

 

Once Matisse invited us to his house at Issy-les-Moulineaux, the house with the large studio where, besides the two versions of 'La Desserte', the 'Red Interior' and dozens of other well-known pictures, he painted 'The Dance', which was there at the time. Later I came to know the model with the glowing skin (we nicknamed her the Italian sunset) whom Matisse had taken south with him in the summer and who, posing among green pines against the Mediterranean blue, had suggested the colour of 'The Dance'. It was the last year of the Matisse school, so Lyman turned his eyes to home. But in the spring he was sick with a bad bout of measles. After recovery he visited Pont Aven with Smith then they visited Smith's home in Manchester.

 

He sailed to Montreal in the autumn, and there met Corinne St. Pierre. They were married the following spring and then travelled to Paris, Switzerland, Normandy, and Munich where he was impressed by the work of Goya and Cézanne, seen in the collection of Marzell von Nemes in the Neue Pinakothek. The winter of 1911-12 was spent in Montreal. His first winter in Bermuda was spent the following year and, that spring he exhibited four paintings at the Art Association of Montreal. His work caused attacks by critics in The Witness, Daily Herald, and The Montreal Star.

 

In May of 1913 he held his first one man show of forty-two paintings and drawings at The Art Association of Montreal and was again attacked by critics, especially S. Morgan-Powell. Disgusted with their statements, he returned to Paris with his wife where they spent the next year. When war was declared they went to Bermuda until early 1915. Developments in Europe brought him to the recruiting office of the Canadian Army where he failed to pass the 'physical'. Resolved to do something, both the Lymans joined the Red Cross and served for a year and half in France until John became seriously ill at Marseilles. He was forced by ill health to leave the Red Cross.

 

They returned to Montreal briefly before going on to Bermuda where they lived until the spring of 1918. In the years that followed the Lymans lived in Paris (mainly), travelled all over Europe and North Africa, spent several winters in Bermuda and one in Los Angeles (1918), met leading American painters in Provincetown (1918); between 1919 and 1922 he wintered in Tunisia and summered at Paris; bought a Villa in Cagnes-sur-Mer in the south of France not far from Nice and again made contact with Matisse whom he found on a balcony of a hotel swinging his brush in time with band music. From the years 1922 to 1925 Lyman did many fine portraits and landscapes.

 

In 1927 Lyman exhibited thirty-three works at The Johnson Art Galleries in Montreal and this time he was well received by S. Morgan-Powell, as follows, . . . Mr. Lyman shows a range and a scope that mark in a very definite manner indeed the remarkable advance he has achieved. There are pictures in this little room that one looks at twice - pictures that reveal an infinite capacity for taking pains, a respect for truth, and a resolute determination to adhere to a fixed and authentic métier. A warming atmosphere, where there had been rank hostility, now existed for Lyman, and a longing to return to Canada brought him home to Montreal in the Autumn of 1931. Earlier in the spring thirty-nine of his works had been exhibited in a one-man show at the W. Scott and Sons gallery, Montreal.

 

When he had settled in Montreal he established The Atelier in cooperation with Hazen Sise, George Holt and André Biéler. Hazen Sise was the Chairman and Lyman was in charge of study classes. The Atelier was not only a place where artists could work from live models, but it offered lectures and exhibitions to the public in an attempt to foster appreciation of Canadian art. This was a role in which Lyman would be making an increasingly greater contribution as the years progressed.

 

It was in 1931 that Lyman began to spend his summers at St. Jovite, Quebec, where he established The Lyman Summer Art Class in landscape painting, drawing and composition with the assistance of Harold Beament. The Class was located on its own one hundred and fifty acres enclosing a private lake and bordering on the Devil's River. It also had a converted farm cottage for a community centre or a place to do indoor work. Board and lodging in hotels and farm-houses was arranged for students although camping ground was also available.

 

In 1936 Lyman began writing reviews for The Montrealer under the general heading of Art. Through these articles he revealed his broad knowledge of painting and sculpture enriched by his travels and acquaintance, in some cases, with the artists discussed. His extensive knowledge of art history gave the reader interesting and informative accounts of the event or subject at hand. During this year he exhibited twenty-five paintings in a one-man show at the Valentine Gallery, New York City, where he received short cordial reviews, the warmest of which appeared in the New York Times as follows, A vein of direct lyricism, effective in its simplicity, runs through the painting of John Lyman . . . A lake - amid greenery, or with a glimpse of laden hayfields, or in a more somber autumn mood - he presents smoothly and nostalgically. One large figure and one or two of his portraits are experiments in short broad brush strokes, breaking up light at the cost of distracting attention to method. One beach scene seems a little illustrative. There is grace in the study of 'Renee.'

 

In 1937 he arranged an exhibition of ten Canadian painters (Prudence Heward, Alexander Bercovitch, Sarah Robertson, Mabel Lockerby, Fritz Brandtner, Good­ridge Roberts, Jori Smith, Jean Palardy, Marion Scott and John Humphrey) and several days later a one man show of his own work opened at W. Scott and Sons. Reviewing this show Robert Ayre noted, When I look at a Lyman painting, I am always aware of a fastidious intelligence governing emotion. Everything he does is not only thoroughly and honestly felt out, but thought out as well. Keenly sensitive to impressions as he is, he searches for something more enduring than accidentals. He will paint his lake in the Laurentians over and over again, exploring it in every mood, and extremely subtle are the changes of expression, but what he is anxious to do is get down to grips with the fundamentals, with what I might call the inner reality. I see him as a classic painter, whose concern is with form. But it is not form in the cold austere sense. There is nothing abstract about Lyman. He uses colour and light, as well as design, to build up a substantial whole. This whole, I feel, is something more than structure; it is mood or, in the portraits, character. The result is impressive; the mood he expresses is something deep and significant; the effect of a Lyman painting is that it is built to last.

 

In 1938 John Lyman met Paul-Emile Borduas and became a major stimulant in broadening Borduas' horizons. Lyman also brought together English speaking and French speaking Canadian artists to form the Contemporary Arts Society. Donald W. Buchanan tells us of this period as follows, Disinterested to the point of neglecting his own work in favour of encouraging the development of freer, a more sensitive, a less pontifical growth of painting in Canada, Lyman now devoted a large part of his energies to the organiza­tion of the Contemporary Arts Society. This Society, composed of sympathetic laymen and independent artists, was founded in 1939. The real coherence of its members lay in their conviction that the art of painting could never be considered as a mere technique adapted to other purposes, whether regional, social or didactic. The artists included Lyman, Borduas, Roberts, Brandtner, Muhlstock, Philip Surrey, Marian Scott and Louise Gadbois, all from Montreal, and Jack Humphrey from New Brunswick. While some of them inclined towards 'representation' and others towards 'non-representation,' the tendency was away from any emphasis on description, towards a more spontaneous poetry of form. Too often artistic activities in Canada tend to be divided by race and language. But this Society managed to surmount such difficulties. Lyman, who was its first president, was completely bilingual, as were several other of its members. As a result, the Society formed a link between those two cultures, the Anglo-Saxon and the Gallic, which exist in Montreal. Its fusing of these two mentalities into a unified enthusiasm for living art was a great accomplishment. That this Society, after ten years of useful existence, should now have disbanded is unfortunate, but perhaps to be expected in view of the rapid growth of so many other diversified activities among painters in Montreal. Almost ten years later Borduas put an end to their friendship when he published his Refus Global.

 

During the same year of the formation of the Contemporary Art Society Lyman also founded the Eastern Group of Painters. But in the years immediately following his founding of these two societies he participated in a number of group shows in which Borduas, Alfred Pellan, Goodridge Roberts, Jori Smith, Philip Surrey and others also exhibited. In 1944 a retrospective exhibition of his work (1913 to 1943) took place at the Dominion Gallery which included large portraits, small oil landscapes, ink sketches and several small water colours. This show included about seventy works which were well received. Later that year the Montreal Standard published Zoe Bieler's article on Lyman with fine photos by André G. de Tonnancour showing the artist at work and at leisure with three reproductions of his paintings; Dr. Paul Dumas published Lyman, a book on the artist in French. In 1944 Lyman himself published a book on James Wilson Morrice.

 

From 1945 to 1954 Lyman spent each summer at North Hatley, Quebec. He exhibited fifty paintings at the Dominion Gallery; at the same time, Archambault exhibited nine of his sculptures. Sixteen of his paintings were views of Lake Massawippi, Quebec, near North Hatley. Also shown was Lyman's portrait of Canadian novelist, Hugh MacLennan, who had been staying at North Hatley. Other titles of paintings included The Hammock Under The Tree, Pink Nude, Band Concert, North Hatley, Laurentian Hills, The Garden, Equestrian Act and The Horse Fair, Lachute.

 

In 1948 Lyman was appointed Associate Professor of the Department of Fine Arts, McGill University, a post he retained until his retirement in 1957. In 1949 Lyman exhibited with Eric Goldberg, Good­ridge Roberts and Philip Surrey in an exhibition of the Eastern Art Group at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and later exhibited his work at the atelier of Guy and Jacques Viau in Outremont. He was appointed Chairman of the Department of Fine Arts at McGill University in 1951 and in November of that year exhibited with Philip Surrey at the Watson Art Galleries, Montreal.

 

In 1954 he began summering at Cape Cod; solo show at Dominion Gallery 1955; participated in summer exhibi­tion on St. Helen's Island, 1956; in summer show Peintres de Montréal on St. Helen's Island, 1957, and later that year in Quelques Peintres de Montréal at the Musée de la Province de Quebec; stayed at Cummaquid, Cape Cod, summer of 1958; wintered in Barbados, 1958-59; summered at Cedarville, Cape Cod, 1959; wintered in Barbados, 1959-60; summered at Falmouth, Cape Cod, 1960; wintered in Barbados, and St. Lucia, 1960-61; at First Encounter Beach, Cape Cod, summer, 1961; wintered in Barbados and St. Vincent, 1961-62; in Montreal and Burlington, Vermont, summer, 1962; wintered in Barbados, Surinam, and Martinique, 1962-63.

 

In September of 1963 the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts opened its retrospective exhibition on Lyman's work. This exhibition was organized by Mr. Edward P. Lawson then Assistant Director of the Museum, and included sixty-two water colours, oils, and drawings, which also toured The National Gallery of Canada (October, 1963), and the Art Gallery of Hamilton (November, 1963). The catalogue which Lawson also prepared, provides the reader with invaluable information, especially in the chronology section.

 

In 1966 another large exhibition was presented, this time by the Musée du Quebec, and organized by the late Guy Viau. The occasion was Lyman's 80th birthday. Although he was very ill in the Barbados, his wife Corinne managed to be present when Jean-Noël Tremblay, Minister of Cultural Affairs of Quebec, inaugurated Salle John Lyman and officially declared the exhibition open. In the collection of 194 works, Mrs. Lyman had lent the Musée 115 paintings and drawings. Philip Surrey in the catalogue introduction stated His articles in the Montrealer, during the late thirties, some of the best art criticism ever written in Canada, were like a strong fresh breeze blowing through stuffy old Montreal. He discussed contemporary work with a thorough understanding of its relation to the past, to the past he brought new insight and appreciation. Later, in 1951, he became professor of the Department of Fine Arts at McGill. Thus as teacher, organizer, lecturer and critic his contributions were many of which his own painting was the most important . . . . Lyman, like Matisse and Morrice, has used the same subjects - in France, North Africa and the Carribean - yet his world is different again and completely his own. There are no innovations like Matisse's daring contrasts and harmonies nor is there the opalescent twilight and poetic mood of Morrice. Lyman is the creator of a classic land where light reveals form through color. We see it clearly. His forms are bold, definite and utterly simple, the color is sensitive and serene but always expressive of the all-pervading light. Planes advance and recede, forms meet or interlock, all under strict control. The line is strong, the touch delicate but decided, the color sings. The problems of painting are grappled with head-on and in broad day. There is no romantic abandon or evasion, no weakness of structure hidden in mist or shadow. He 'saw life steadily and saw it whole.' Like Henry James, Lyman has felt the strong opposing attractions of the Old World and the New and, like James, he has successfully resolved them in an art that encompasses both. This exhibition was also shown at the Musée d'Art Contemporain, Montreal.

 

Lyman died in 1967 and his wife shortly afterwards. Mrs. Lyman gave a large part of her collection to the Musée du Quebec. John Lyman's papers were bequeathed to the Bibliothèque Nationale Du Québec, Montreal. He is represented in the following collections: National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa); Musée de Quebec (Quebec City); Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Mtl.); McGill University Library (Mtl.); The University of Manitoba (Winnipeg); Art Gallery of Hamilton (Hamilton, Ont.); Beaverbrook Art Gallery (Fredericton, N.B.); Mr. & Mrs. Howard Aldridge, (Mtl.); Dr. Jules Brahy (Mtl.); M. Gilles Corbeil (Mtl.); Mr. & Mrs. Maurice Corbeil (Mtl.); Dominion Gallery (Mtl.); Dr. Paul Dumas (Mtl.); Mr. Allan Harrison (Mtl.); Mrs. John G. Lyman (Mtl.); Mrs. Henry T. Markey (Mtl.); Mr. Alan D. McCall (Mtl.); Dr. & Mrs. G.R. McCall (Mtl.); Mr. Ian Morgan (Mtl.); Mr. David R. Morrice (Mtl.); Estate of R.A. Nixon (Mtl.); Dr. & Mrs. B.B. Raginsky (Mtl.); Mme. William St. Pierre (Mtl.); Mr. & Mrs. I. Norman Smith (Ottawa); Mr. & Mrs. Jules Loeb (Tor., Ont.); Dr. & Mrs. Max Stern (Mtl.), and many others.
 

 

A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, volumes 1-8, by Colin S. MacDonald.

Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Canadian Art Dealer & Gallery in Montreal

John Lyman, C.G.P., C.A.S. (1886-1967)

"Les Nou Nous", c. 1961

Oil on board 4" x 7"  (SOLD)

Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Canadian Art Dealer & Gallery in Montreal

John Lyman, C.G.P., C.A.S. (1886-1967)

"Lake Ouimet, Autumn", c. 1961

Oil on panel 15" x 18"  (SOLD)

Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Canadian Art Dealer & Gallery in Montreal

John Lyman, C.G.P., C.A.S. (1886-1967)

"Lake Ouimet, Mont Tremblant", c. 1941

Oil on panel 13" x 16"  (SOLD)

Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Canadian Art Dealer & Gallery in Montreal

John Lyman, C.G.P., C.A.S. (1886-1967)

"Bouquet on a Garden Bench", c. 1954

Oil on canvas 20" x 24"  (SOLD)

Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Canadian Art Dealer & Gallery in Montreal

John Lyman, C.G.P., C.A.S. (1886-1967)

"Negress", c. 1945

Oil on canvas 13.9/16" x 14.1/16"  (SOLD)

Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Canadian Art Dealer & Gallery in Montreal

John Lyman, C.G.P., C.A.S. (1886-1967)

"Le Luxembourg, Paris", 1923

Oil on board 13" x 16.1/8"  (SOLD)

Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Canadian Art Dealer & Gallery in Montreal

John Lyman, C.G.P., C.A.S. (1886-1967)

"Anemones", c. 1939

Oil on canvas 21.1/4"  x 18.1/4"  (SOLD)

Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Canadian Art Dealer & Gallery in Montreal

John Lyman, C.G.P., C.A.S. (1886-1967)

"Lake Massawippi XV", 1945

Oil on panel 7" x 5.1/2"  (SOLD)

Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Canadian Art Dealer & Gallery in Montreal

John Lyman, C.G.P., C.A.S. (1886-1967)

"Flowers and Fruit", 1950

Oil on panel 21.3/4" x 27.3/4"  (SOLD)