James Wilson Morrice, R.C.A. (1865-1924)

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James Wilson Morrice was born into an affluent Montreal family in 1865.   From 1882 to 1889, he studied law at Osgoode Hall.   While studying law his interest in painting was growing and he began to paint.  One of his works was accepted at the 1888 annual exhibiton of the Royal Canadian Academy and two were hung in the 1889 spring show of the Montreal Art Association.  At age 24, Morrice decided to give up law and fully devote himself to his art.

 

In 1890, Morrice left Montreal for Paris, making this city his permanent home.  He first enrolled at the Académie Julian and then studied with Henri Harpignies.  Morrice also traveled extensively, throughout France and later Venice, North Africa, the West Indies, the Caribbean and Tunisia in search of new inspiration.   He met Matisse on a visit to Tangier in 1911 and again in 1912, and one can see this artist's influence in Morrice's later works.  Until his father's death in 1914, Morrice also returned to Montreal most winters to visit his family and exhibit his works.  It was during one of these visits that Morrice met Canadian painter Maurice Cullen in Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, and together they made excursions into the Quebec landscape to paint.

Morrice  established himself in the English-speaking literary and art circles of Paris.  Constantly frequenting popular cafes and restaraunts,  he befriended  painters and writers such as James McNeill Whistler, Arnold Bennett and Somerset Maugham.  Both Bennett and Maugham portrayed Morrice as a character for their novels. 


In 1896, Morrice began to use small wooden panels for his oil sketches, referred to as pochades,  some no bigger than a postcard.  He apparently completed about 500 of these sketches, developing maybe 200 of these into larger canvases.  By the early 1900s Morrice had achieved great success internationally, regularly exhibiting in the annual exhibitions in Paris. He began in 1896 with the Salon National shows, then from 1905 to 1913, exhibited with the Salon d’Automne and from 1908 to 1913 with the Société Nouvelle. He also exhibited in London, Brussels, Scotland and the United States.

 

Morrice remained in France for the majority of World War I, and in 1918 he was commissioned to paint the Canadian troops in Picardy. From 1919 and onwards, Morrice frequently headed for warmer climates.  His taste for drink affected his health and it is believed that he did very little painting after 1922.   He passed away in Tunisia on January 23, 1924.

 

Morrice… opened our eyes to things no one ever thought of painting.”
A. Y. Jackson (From James Wilson Morrice: Painter of Light and Shadow  by Wayne Larsen, 2008) 

 

 

James Wilson Morrice was one of Canada’s first modernist painters. His landscapes, which showed the beauty of the country in a way the world had never seen before, helped form the identity of Canadian art, and his commissioned war scenes brought a new perspective to World War I.

 

Morrice originally studied law in Toronto, but decided to pursue art instead. After moving to Paris in the early 1890’s, he studied at the Académie Julian, and under the Barbizon painter Henri Harpignies. His landscapes of the period show the influence of American painter James McNeil Whistler, but by 1905, his work became more Post-Impressionist. He visited Canada often, creating some of his best work in his home province (The Ferry, Quebec, 1907). He became friends with Henri Matisse, who was associated with the Fauve Movement, and in 1912, they travelled to Tangiers together. Morrice would also travel extensively through North Africa, the West Indies, Cuba and Venice, searching for the warm light and rich colours found in many of his paintings.

 

During World War II, Morrice was commissioned by the Canadian War Records to paint on the front lines. His moving portraits of marching soldiers would be considered some of the best representations of war in art (Soldiers in France, 1918). Morrice exhibited regularly at the Salon d’Automne in Paris, and at the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers in London. He was the first Canadian painter to have his work exhibited in the Venice Biennale (1903), and one of the first Canadian artists to gain widespread international acceptance.

 

 

Courtesy of the National Gallery of Canada

Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Canadian Art Dealer & Gallery in Montreal

James Wilson Morrice, R.C.A. (1865-1924)

"View Towards Levis from Quebec", 1909

Oil on canvas 23.3/4" x 31.1/2"  (SOLD)

Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Canadian Art Dealer & Gallery in Montreal

James Wilson Morrice, R.C.A. (1865-1924)

"La Place Chateaubriand, Saint-Malo", c. 1899-1903

Oil on canvas 30" x 36"  (SOLD)

Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Canadian Art Dealer & Gallery in Montreal

James Wilson Morrice, R.C.A. (1865-1924)

"Umbrellas on the Beach, Brittany", c. 1896

Oil on panel 13" x 9.1/2"  (SOLD)

Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Canadian Art Dealer & Gallery in Montreal

James Wilson Morrice, R.C.A. (1865-1924)

"Algerian Negress"

Oil on panel 13.1/4" x 10.1/2"  (SOLD)