Frederick A. Verner, A.R.C.A., O.S.A. (1836-1928)

We buy and sell paintings by Frederick A. Verner.  For inquiries, please contact us.

Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Canadian Art Dealer & Gallery in Montreal

Frederick A. Verner, A.R.C.A. (1836-1928)

"Family Discussion", 1886

Oil on canvas 14.1/2" x 26.1/2" (SOLD)

Born: 26 February 1836, Hammondsville, Ontario, Canada
Died: 16 May 1928, London, England

Frederick Verner established himself in Toronto as a painter of the Canadian wilderness. He specialized in poetic depictions of the western Prairie, in particular scenes of buffalo and Aboriginal encampments in watercolour and oil paint. Verner also painted portraits, rural and urban scenes. In 1880 he moved to England. Verner used the signature F.A. Verner on much of his work.

Verner was born in 1836 in rural Hammondsville, Ontario, (which became Sheridan in 1857, and merged with Oakville in 1962). He was the first of nine children. His father Arthur C. Verner had immigrated to Canada in 1835 and was principal of Hammondsville Grammar School. In 1852, when he was sixteen, Verner won the 'discretionary prize' for his monochromatic drawing exhibited at the Upper Canada Provincial Art Exhibition. There he met the renowned artist Paul Kane (1810-1871) whose paintings of Canada's Aboriginal peoples he greatly admired.

In 1856 Verner went to England and studied art briefly at Leigh's Academy (later Heatherley's School of Art) in South Kensington, London, and conducted personal studies at the British Museum and the National Gallery. Other than this training, Verner was self-taught. While in London he lived with his aunt. In 1856, he enlisted in the 3rd West Yorkshire Regiment of the British army for three years and then fought with the British Legion in Italy with Garibaldi's troops from 1860-61. He sent a watercolour sketch of himself in 'Garibaldian Uniform' to his family. Verner rejoined the Yorkshire Regiment on his return to London.

In 1862, Verner went back to Canada and settled in Toronto, where he established a studio as a portrait photographer that he maintained for about twelve years. From 1868 onward, Verner also worked occasionally at the Notman & Fraser Photographic Studio as a colourist, painting elaborate backgrounds and painting over photographic portraits in watercolour and oils. The Notman & Fraser Studio was an important meeting place for a variety of artists, and Verner became a friend of John A. Fraser, a senior painter who managed the Studio. Verner also re-acquainted himself with Paul Kane, who lived in Toronto, as he continued to be inspired by the elder artist's subject matter. Their friendship endured until Kane's death in 1871.

Verner would likely have been aware of several popular publications on Aboriginal peoples: American artist George Catlin's, Catlin's Notes of Eight Years' Travels and Residence in Europe with his North American Indian Collection, 1848, and Catlin's print collectionNorth American 'Indian portfolio', 1848, both published in London, also Kane's Wanderings of an Artist Among the Indians of North America, 1859, again published in London, as well as paintings by artists who were Verner's contemporaries.

In 1862, Verner exhibited a pen and ink drawing at the Provincial Exhibition and won second prize in the professional category. He also created his first portraits of Canadian Aboriginal people, Ta-na-ze-pa (Sioux Dandy), 1862, a half-length portrait based on a photograph and a companion portrait, Ne-Bah-quah-om (Big Dog) - a Chippewa Chief, 1862, both are now in the Glenbow Museum. Curator Joan Murray credits Catlin's publication as a second source for these portraits. Verner's Portrait of a Woman in Profile, 1862, is unusual amongst his paintings as it portrays an Aboriginal woman wearing European-styled attire (straw hat, blouse and necklace) rather than the buckskin clothing of a previous generation in which Verner typically depicted Aboriginal people.

Verner travelled internationally from time to time to promote his artistic career, and in 1865 he went to New York and showed his painting, On the Madawaska River, at the annual exhibition of the National Academy of Design in New York.

Verner's Self-Portrait, 1866, a circular vignette in oil paint over photograph on card, was painted when he was thirty and is a delicately achieved work. In 1866 Verner also exhibited at the Provincial Exhibition, Toronto, and won numerous prizes, including; best photographic portrait finished in watercolour, and best photographic portrait finished in oil paint. Two years later at the 1868 Provincial Exhibition, Verner also won a number of prizes including; best landscape of a Canadian subject in oil paint (originals) and best landscape of a Canadian subject in watercolour (originals). When Verner exhibited in the loan exhibition at the Mechanic's Institute, a reviewer in the Daily Leader, 18 October 1868, noted he was "pre-eminent, his large drawings of Indian Scenery attracting attention from all passing by."

Verner travelled to Chemong Lake near Peterborough to make studies of the landscape and Aboriginal people as his watercolour Indians on Chemong Lake, 1868, testifies, and in 1874 he visited Parry Sound to sketch the Seguin River and nearby portage. About 1869, Verner had his photographic portrait taken in carte-de-visite format at the Notman & Fraser Studio in Toronto. In 1871 he exhibited five oil paintings at the Society of Canadian Artists spring exhibition in Montreal, including at least two panoramic compositions, Evening on the Kanamistiqua River and Buffalo Combat. The Daily Witness described them as, "Indian landscape scenes in the Far West… Their pervading character is stillness and their locality gives them a peculiar interest at the present time",  the 'peculiar interest' was a reference to the adjoining of Manitoba and Hudson Bay Company lands to the Dominion of Canada in 1870, and the public's strong interest in images of these new territories.

Verner painted three portraits of his mentor Paul Kane, the most accomplished one, Paul Kane, oil on canvas, undated, (now at the Royal Ontario Museum) appears to have been based on a photograph and shows Kane later in life looking a little less rumpled than he did in photographs.

In 1873 Verner became a founding member of the Ontario Society of Artists, along with his friends John A. Fraser, Lucius O'Brien and others. Their first exhibition opened on April 14, 1873 at Notman & Fraser Photographic Studio's new premises where Verner showed 16 paintings. Verner exhibited almost annually with the Ontario Society of Artists from 1873 to 1918.

Verner's only confirmed and documented trip to the west to sketch first hand scenes of the prairies and Aboriginal encampments took place in 1873. Verner's voyage took him to Upper Fort Garry (became Winnipeg in 1874), where the Manitoba Free Press (September 20, 1873) reported that, "Mr F. A. Verner, the Canadian artist is in town and brings with him over two hundred sketches of the Northwest, some of which are to appear in The London Illustrated News". A few weeks later Verner travelled within the region to Lake of the Woods to witness the signing of North-West Angle Treaty No. 3. on October 4th by Alexander Morris, Lt. Governor of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories, with the Saulteaux nation of the Ojibwe.

Following this event, Verner made a series of five scenic sketches that recorded his travels in the area which he kept in his possession until his death. These watercolours and sketches depict Aboriginal encampments along rivers and lakes with tipis and canoes. Occasionally they include figures of men, women and children. The earliest work, Lake of the Woods, is dated September 30th; the second, On Rainy River at Long Sault, Autumn, October 5th; two more were made at Fort Frances on October 6th, and on October 13th one at the Island Portage on the Winnipeg River. Verner used these sketches as preparatory studies for many of his subsequent paintings, as he had the habit of combining scenes and details from various studies in his finished works.

In 1874, Verner closed his photographic business in Toronto and dedicated himself exclusively to painting. In 1875 he made a trip to the United States and visited the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876 where he exhibited his oil painting Hudson Bay Company Officials atBrulé Portage on Rainy River, 1876, a strongly accomplished work that depicts a misty wilderness landscape with several figures and canoes near the shore. He also began to make drawings of buffalo from life in zoos (New York and possibly Niagara) which were nearing extinction in the wild (prairie buffalo were virtually extinct in Canada by 1880). In 1879, he visited Ottawa and produced a precise sketch of the Parliament Buildings and surroundings from the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. In 1880 Verner showed two oils, Canadian Fruit and Sunset, Parry Sound, a watercolour, Camp on the Nepigon River and some outdoor sketches at the Royal Canadian Academy's first exhibition held in Ottawa, he continued to exhibit with the RCA till 1927.

Verner moved permanently to England in 1880, although he still continued to exhibit in Canada and the USA. At the age of forty-six, Verner married Mary Chilcott (b. 1836), a widow, in whose Toronto home he had boarded for over ten years during 1870s. Their marriage in Liverpool, England, in 1882, may have been enabled by Verner's inheritance of a house in Fulham, London, from his aunt Elizabeth Charlotte (d.1882) with whom he had resided during his art student and military years in London.

Sometime between 1881 and 1883 Verner became a painting instructor to Princess Louise, Queen Victoria's daughter, who was a talented artist. Princess Louise had resided in Ottawa as the wife of Canada's Governor General, the Marquis of Lorne, from 1878-1883 (though serious injuries from a sleigh accident in 1880 account for her absence from Ottawa for approximately 2½ of these five years). Verner may have met Princess Louise in Ottawa as he was involved in the founding of the Royal Canadian Academy (1880) and both she and her husband were its active patrons. Or possibly he met her through his aunt Elizabeth Charlotte (née Verner) Nugent, who married the 8th Earl and Marquess of Westmeath in 1864, and who was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria.
 

Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Canadian Art Dealer & Gallery in Montreal

Frederick A. Verner, A.R.C.A. (1836-1928)

"Ojibwa Camp, Northern Shore of Lake Huron ", 1873

Oil on canvas 12" x 18" (SOLD)

Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Canadian Art Dealer & Gallery in Montreal

Frederick A. Verner, A.R.C.A. (1836-1928)

"Buffalo by a Stream"

Watercolour 13" x 20" (SOLD)

Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Canadian Art Dealer & Gallery in Montreal

Frederick A. Verner, A.R.C.A. (1836-1928)

"Deer Hunting in Muskoka", 1873

Oil on canvas 13" x 19" (SOLD)

 

Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Canadian Art Dealer & Gallery in Montreal

Frederick A. Verner, A.R.C.A. (1836-1928)

"Sunset Over Indian Encampment"

Oil on canvas 5" x 11.1/2" (SOLD)

 

Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Canadian Art Dealer & Gallery in Montreal

Frederick A. Verner, A.R.C.A. (1836-1928)

"Indian Lookout, Thunder Bay", 1896

Watercolour 13.1/4" x 9.1/2" (SOLD)

 

Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Canadian Art Dealer & Gallery in Montreal

Frederick A. Verner, A.R.C.A. (1836-1928)

"Indian Family Canoeing", 1896

Watercolour 10.1/4" x 20.1/2" (SOLD)

 

Verner's most acclaimed oil painting, The Upper Ottawa, 1882, a Canadian wilderness landscape depicting a clear, bright autumn day with a sparklingly beautiful river and Aboriginal paddlers in a birch bark canoe was painted in London. Art historian Dennis Reid called it Verner's "crowning achievement" and praised it for its "crystal light … breathtaking […] stillness and clarity". It was exhibited in 1882 at the Royal Academy, London, and then at the Royal Canadian Academy exhibition in Montreal, in 1884. It was acquired by the National Gallery of Canada in 1958. Verner's career was further enhanced by the sale of a painting to the Princess of Wales (Princess Alexandra of Denmark) and to Prince Henri de Liechtenstein in 1883.

There are a number of sketches and finished paintings of Windsor, Ontario, and its surroundings produced by Verner, as his parents had moved to Sandwich, near Windsor, in 1856, and he visited regularly between 1875 and 1895. His Autumn near Sandwich, Ontario, 1885-1889, oil on canvas, from this period is now in the Art Gallery of Windsor.

In 1886, Verner was included in an important exhibition of Canadian art at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, London, as one of Canada's major landscape painters, several of whom, like him, were now living in London. Verner continued to produce life sketches and studies of buffalo. One dated 1892 includes a note indicating it was made at the encampment of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, held at the Horticultural Exhibition, Earl's Court, London.

In 1893 Verner participated in the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, where he lived for the summer, setting up a studio from which to sell his works. This was also the year in which Verner was finally elected Associate of the Royal Canadian Academy. Amongst Verner's pencil portraits is one of artist Lucius O'Brien made first hand in 1898 when he visited Verner in England. Verner had a long friendship with O'Brien and had nominated him as vice-president of the OCA in 1874. O'Brien was also the first President of the Royal Canadian Academy.

Verner's other documented western trip was in 1890 when he travelled to Victoria, BC, to stay with his married sister Isabel Goddard and her husband; it  may have involved travel through Manitoba. Through family legend it was thought that Verner made several trips to the west, but these are now doubtful as sources for much of his imagery, other than first hand sketches by the artist, have now been identified.

In 1901, Verner won a Gold Medal at the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, NY for paintings of 'Indian' subjects.  In 1905, he became the first Canadian to be elected as a member of the Royal British Colonial Society of Artists, and in 1910 he was awarded their diploma. During his last trip to Canada in 1909, at age 73, Verner sat for a photographic portrait, a copy of which is now in the Library and Archives Canada. He continued to go on sketching trips to Scotland into his seventies. Verner died in London at the age of 91, in 1928.

Verner kept many of his sketches and studies in his own collection, and in 1951 fifty-seven of his watercolour sketches and paintings, many from his western trip in 1873, were donated to the National Gallery of Canada by a descendant of the Verner family in England.

On the occasion of a posthumous solo exhibition in 1967, art historian Paul Duval praised Verner's abilities to imbue mood and atmosphere through his use of light, "Leaden skies, storms and brilliant sunlight dramatize and unify his scenes of stampede [buffalo], portage and hunting. The sky was an omnipresent symbol to the unroofed frontier traveller and Verner conveys its significance in watercolour in a manner rare among his contemporaries."

Selected Awards and Memberships
1872, Founding member, Ontario Society of Artists
1893, Associate Royal Canadian Academy
1901, Gold medal and diploma, Pan-American Exhibition, Buffalo, New York, USA
1905, Member, Royal British Colonial Society of Artists
1910, Diploma, Royal British Colonial Society of Artists
1910, Award, International Exhibition, Buenos Aires, Argentina
1910, Award, Centennial Exhibition, Santiago, Chile
1970, Commemorative Historical Plaque, Sheridan College, Oakville, ON

Selected Public Collections
Calgary, AB, Glenbow Museum
Edmonton, AB, Art Gallery of Alberta
Fort Worth, TX, USA, Amon Carter Museum of Art
Guelph, ON, Macdonald Stewart Art Centre
Hamilton, ON, Art Gallery of Hamilton
Jackson Hole, WY, USA, National Museum of Wildlife Art
Kingston, ON, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen's University
Montreal, QC, McCord Museum of Canadian History
Montreal, QC, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Oshawa, ON, Robert McLaughlin Gallery
Ottawa, ON, Library and Archives Canada
Ottawa, ON, National Gallery of Canada
Regina, SK, MacKenzie Art Gallery
Toronto, ON, Archives of Ontario
Toronto, ON, Art Gallery of Ontario
Toronto, ON, Royal Ontario Museum
Toronto, ON, Toronto Reference Library
Victoria, BC, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria
Victoria, BC, British Columbia Archives
Windsor, ON, Art Gallery of Windsor
Winnipeg, MB, Winnipeg Art Gallery


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

and volume 9 (online only),by National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada