Thursday, October 22, 2015

George Reid (1860-1947) "Art For Life's Sake"

I have an unending curiosity about other artists. That is why I recently attended a talk hosted by the Ottawa Public Library (OPL) about artist George Reid.

"Art For Life's Sake" by Ellen McLeod

The Ottawa Public Library (OPL) wrote:
"Best known for his monumental painting, "Mortgaging the Homestead," 1890, in the National Gallery of Canada, George Agnew Reid (1860-1947) was a surprisingly versatile artist, architect, designer, and teacher. This talk by Ellen McLeod will follow his long career which covers his student days, his award winning paintings, his arts and crafts designs, his homes, buildings and murals in the U.S, France, and Ontario, as well as his marriages to two women artists."
A small sample of the artwork that was discussed at the OPL
Source: Google image search for "George Reid
My Favourite "Drawing Lots"
Source: Art Gallery of Ontario tumblr

George Reid portrait with guitar 1895
Photo source:

I wanted to write a brief blog post on six things that I learned from this wonderful talk:

  1. George Reid was Mary Wrinch's husband!   You usually hear the opposite ("so-and-so was somebody's wife") In this case, about fifteen minutes into the talk, when Ellen McLeod said "George had two wives who were both artists" it occurred to me that I had previously researched and written about George's second wife Mary Wrinch (1877-1969) on my blog after seeing an exhibition of her work at the Ottawa Art Gallery. (George Reid also taught Doris McCarthy who I also blogged about). George met his first wife Mary Heister in Pennsylvania while attending the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
  2. George loved using enigmatic titles for his paintings. The woman at the edge of the field entitled "Call to Dinner"; the boy reading in the hayloft entitled "Forbidden Fruit"; the women at the spinning wheel entitled "Gossip" and the men gathered around the table entitled "The other side of the question" to name a few. These titles beckon the viewer to look closer and imagine what is going on. What is the other side of the question? What was the question? What was the forbidden fruit in the hayloft? What are they gossiping about? Who is being called to dinner? (See also the McMaster Museum's "How An Artist Draws You In" for "Call To Dinner")
  3. As part of the Arts and Crafts movement, George designed beautiful buildings and furniture. Much of his work was featured in the 2014 exhibit: "Artists, Architects, and Artisans: Canadian Art 1890–1918"  George, towards the end of his career,  compiled a scrapbook in his Wychwood Park home that contains articles and photographs of  some of the  homes he designed. The piano he designed is currently on display at the National Gallery
  4. George became a great advocate of "public art". He was a muralist and believed in the integration of the arts into public spaces  George Reid’s interest in mural painting started in Paris and was furthered through friendships at the summer art colony of Onteora in the Catskills. Reid and other Toronto artists formed the Society of Mural Decorators in 1894. They soon proposed decorations for Toronto’s new City Hall but subsequent proposals for the Parliament Buildings in Toronto and Ottawa met with little or no support
  5. In 1944, shortly before his death, George donated to Ontario 459 paintings and works on paper, most of them for display and exhibition in schools across the province.  Less than half the works are traceable today!!! I wonder if folks have them without even knowing?
  6. His work in the National Gallery of Canada can be found in the Canadian Collection rooms and side rooms. This is your last chance to see them (for a little while) as they will be removed before the New Year as the Canadian Collections are redone in preparation for  Canada's 150th birthday in 2017) Link to 24 pieces
This painting was immensely popular and sadly was burned in a fire in 1918. George recreated it in the 1940s
Source: Slideshow by Ellen McLeod
George working on the municipal murals for Toronto City Hall 1897-99
Photo source:

The Reid murals were painted over and then uncovered and restored in 2007-2008
Dufferin St Clair Branch - Toronto Public Library. The building opened in 1921, and was called Earlscourt Branch until 1972. The Reid murals were completed in May, 1926 but were painted over in a later renovation in 1964. Interior murals painted by George A. Reid, principal of the Ontario College of Art, and by two of his former students, Lorna Claire and Doris McCarthy during 1925-1932. In 2007-2008 they have been uncovered and restored.

On Reid's belief in art for life's sake as opposed to "art for art's sake"
Source: "Modern Civic Art; or, the City Made Beautiful":
Aesthetic Progressivism and the Allied Arts in Canada, 1889-1939 

Mary Hiester Reid (1854-1921)

I have fallen in love with the artwork of George Reid's first wife
Mary Heister Reid
Her work is little known - a fate shared by virtually all the female artists of her generation
 Mary Wrinch Reid

I had researched and written previously about Mary Wrinch Reid
but I had never seen this portrait of her drawn by George in 1944
Source: Slideshow by Ellen McLeod

Links of interest:

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