The Knowles

Painters of Pleasant “Bits” of Canada

JOHN EDGCUMBE STALEY September 1 1913

The Knowles

Painters of Pleasant “Bits” of Canada

JOHN EDGCUMBE STALEY September 1 1913

The Knowles

Painters of Pleasant “Bits” of Canada

JOHN EDGCUMBE STALEY

A SOIREE in the Knowles’ studio on Bloor Street, Toronto, is one of the most delightful functions imaginable. More genial hosts than Farquhar and Elizabeth Knowles cannot be found in Canada. The vein of unaffected humor, which each possesses, is rare in a land where people are superserious and preoccupied. Their studio, with its double entresol and musicians’ gallery, has no superior in the Dominion for spaciousness, elegance and hospitality. The designer and builder was the versatile host, but he met quaint trouble with the men who set up the firebreast and inglenook. At first they declined to build roughly enough, and, not until Knowles had taken lumps of broken brickwork and jammed them upon the wet plaster, did they gather his intention ; and then they threw their hesitation to the winds, and grappled the biggest masses procurable, even fat boulders—each man bending

Editor’s Note: — The following glimpses of the life and work of two of our most gifted Canadian artists will appeal to all who have a patriotic feeling for our national art, or who appreciate the beauty of art that selects the real tilings of life and paints them as they are. Particularly interesting will this sketch be to those who have had the opportunity of seeing some of the Knowles’ pictures, and of coming in touch with the personalities of the artists themselves.

beneath an Atlas-load—and so clapped them to, it is a prodigious piece of work !

The Soirees Musicales attract all that is best and most enlightened in Toronto society; programmes are ever varied and excellent. There are, of course, pictures to admire, and a host of interesting things besides—gorgeous Japan-

ee kimonos ,old Dutch brasses, Chinese “amilles” and other pots, Thibetan amour, Indian bows and arrows, Prsian rugs, fishing-nets and skins of basts. The easiest of couches and the sc'test of cushions invite to comfortabl postures, whilst the amiable artistcoiple charm everyone with fascinating caiseries.

‘You know,” began Mrs. Knowles, inche pleasantest of Canadian tones, “1 ws not always an artist, music was indi ated to me when a girl; but music ws not to be mv life-work. People who sar my childish drawings and brushwere nature studies—encouraged me to persevere, and I became a pipil at the old School of Art, where Mr W. Cruikshank, then, as now again, taight black and white. Just then the scluol staff was being strengthened, and Mr. Knowles became teacher of painting His style was free and open and sinere, and Ï became his devoted pupil. We were married in 1890.”

Whilst Mrs. Knowles has been ch ruling her hearers, her husband has >een holding forth to another group of risitors, “Nothing,” he declares, “at‘acts me more than the variations of tb, atmosphere—the values of shade and shine, and the reflections of thingk I delight in the open air and the chelrful country-side. You ask me whicf of my pictures gave me the greatest pleasure in painting. I really cannot säy— perhaps “Mount Anne—near Beapre, Quebec”—with the cloud resting on the summit, the colored misty background, and the dissolving hues in the running stream, I painted it in 1897. ifae it hangs over there. One of my pictures at the last Canadian National Exhibition was called “Evening Glow.” jl am rather sorry it is sold for it expresés my art philosophy. My good ship Having weathered fearsome gales, is safely moored by the Quebec quay . Her well-worn hull is a painter’s lobkingglass reflecting the westering sun, whilst every bolt and knot is a scintillating mirror. The heavy shadow in tfrs foreground, was caused by the frowning cliffs of Wolfe’s Cove. The finit sketch of this composition I made so long ago as 1883. I delight in painting snips, for I know well how to build them, and to sail them too.”

Farquhar McGillivray Stewart Knowles was born at in New York State, May 22,1 father, Mr. William Sheridi was of English extraction;

artistic hobby for he delighted in wood carving, which he did very well. Mrs. Knowles was a Scotchwoman. Farquhar’s childhood was spent with his sisters—who had artistic tastes—at Elora, near Guelph, Ontario, and he was educated at the Grammer School there, but finished in the United States. His

first art teacher in Toronto was John A. Fraser—in those days noted for his work in miniature—landscape afterward engrossed him. Young Knowles passed on to studentship at the Philadelphia and New York Schools of Art— the Alma Mater of many a good Canadian painter.

Elizabeth Annie Knowles was born in Ottawa. Her parents are both Canadian born. Her father, Mr. William Godkin Beach, belonged to an old Huntingdonshire family, domiciled at Oakley Hall. Both her parents had art sentiments; her mother excelled in embroidery. When she was a child the family moved to Toronto, and here the future A. R. C. A. received her first lessons in drawing.

The year following their marriage Mr. and Mrs. Knowles set off to visit Europe, to see the wider world beyond the bounds of the Dominion. Not as idle globe-trotters went they, but as serious students, to improve their art and learn what artists were doing in other lands. They made for Britain first—the Motherland—and, after seeing and receiving some of the rich things she has ever in store for her cherished children fromacross the seas —they settled down quietly at parklike Bushey. Sir Hubert von Herkomer had pitched his teaching camp in that delectable Hertfordshire village, and there the Canadian couple rented a pretty country cottage to serve for home and studio. The master’s fame in portraiture and figure-painting, and his versatile renown, drew them there. From him they gained breadth in composi-

tion, boldness in drawing, and daring coloration.

After a while, however, a cry sounded over the water—the narrow water of the Straits of Dover—the song of the artist sons of France:

“Tous les garçons chantaient,

Le soir au cabaret, qu’ils étaient reunis ;

Tous les garçons chantaient!”

Among the “garçons,” who sang this quaint Chansonette of old Provence, were many mellow Canadian voices. The call was not to be gainsaid, so to Paris journeyed Farquhar and Elizabeth Knowles, there to throw in their lot with, and share the studies of, their brethren from the West. Lucky were

they in being able to rent a very beautiful studio-home—that of the painter Desgoff. Knowles at once enrolled himself as a member at Julians’, where he was cordially welcomed by many fellow Canadians.

Surveying the teachers of the day, and their methods he placed himself under the guidance of Constant—the great portraitist and painter of Eastern splendors ; Laurens—whose finely colored work breathed virile poetry! and, Gervex—the Genre and decorative painter with his open-air effects and silvery tones. Mrs. Knowles, however, joined no studio, no club, no circle; her husband still was her efficient teacher, and their Paris vogue was as happy as could be.

Those five years in Europe were not «uly happy but productive. At many cchibitions of pictures in England and ’ranee work of the Knowles’ BusheyJaris studios were hung. Prizes and uedals, and praise, and blame, too, .ometimes, were not withheld, and the ature had bountiful promise. Paris, in ?)ite of its Bohemian freedom had its «. iff conventions and the Knowles begin to tire of their surroundings, thoughts of home—they sighed for the fee and fresh air of the Land of the Aaple Leaf—and the desire to do sometling good there filled their souls. Back wmld they go, and set up a studioh<me like those they had learned to lo*e so well in France and England. Tossed once more by the rough seabilows and the rude river currents they wire wafted on until their feet, once m>re pressed the warm golden sand of ’Pronto Bay. Should they seek the fa’ming-lands of Guelph, or the fashionable side-walks of Ottawa—where to make their home? Neither was th'ir choice, for they became tenants of an eligible dwelling in historic Yonge StEet, Toronto.

Tonors greeted the arrival in Ontaro of the artist travellers. Knowles, uptn the high reputation he had gained in Europe, and the good promise of his career in Canada, was named an associite of the Canadian Royal Academy, and further elected vice-president of the Ontario Society of Artists—of which soebty he had long been a member. His acccmplished wife, still her husband s devetea pupil, shared the joys of those day? of congratulations, and at once took her place among the women painters of Ontario.

A very splendid canvas hangs now in the Knowles studio, “Hero Finding the Body of Leander.” Its motive was quite French. It was a complete novelty In Canadian art, and indicated a unique direction in which its author might work successfully.

“1 had difficulty about a model,” he says.1 “but painting from the nude is the highest phase of the painter’s art. and art-lovers in Canada will rise to it in time—it takes a very long time to „ correct wrong views about human things.”

The Knowles prospered as they were bound to do. Their personalities have all the individual attractiveness which wins its way everywhere. His vigor and her vivacity charm everyone, no social gathering is complete without their presence. A more roomy studio was soon required for work and hospitality, and they moved to the Confederation -Life Building in Richmond Street, where many pleasant “bits” of Canada, like thé leaves of a beautifully . illustrated book, were painted in quick succession, i ...

Mr. is an adept in placing

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figures and cattle in his fertile land-1 scapes, by the roadside and river bank— very many in the Province of Quebec. “On the Roadside Near Beaupre,” is characteristic of French Canadian life; it was painted in 1908.

Mrs. Knowles takes toll of the wilder country, where forest greets field, and she takes stock of wandering cattle, and cackling poultry. Her “Fall of the Year,” painted in 1907, is an opalescent nocturne, “Edge of the Wood” (1910)] a summer sunny symphony, and “Silj ver Beeches” (1908), bare of summei dress, a winter’s study. “Corn in Shock” (1907), was painted at Whitby, Ontario, on one of the coldest of Octdber days, “when,” as she says, “mjr hands were almost numb and my painte congealed.” These compositions are evidences of her skill in atmospheric effects, wherein she reproduces admirably the characteristically deep blue tones of the limitless Canadian horizoii and all varieties of the green-grey growth.

“I love,” she says, “the open air and the freedom of the forest and the field, and there I find subjects which fascinate me and which I delight to paint in miniature. The work may be trying to the eyes, for you see some of my studies “in little” are no larger than a postage stamp. Some time ago I chanced upon a hoard of ivories, which my husband had collected in his travels, and he gave them all to me. Yes, I paint on ivory my miniature orchards, cattle, roosters and other country objects.” These exquisite “bits” of Canada, alas, cannot be reproduced here—they require a magnifying glass to reveal all their delicacies. The associateship of the Royal Canadian Academy came to Mrs. Knowles in 1898—her diploma work being “A Nocturne,” which was purchased by the Dominion Government.

The Knowleses have by no means done all their drawing and painting in ind about Toronto. For several years Mr. Knowles dwelt in Cleveland, State of Ohio, transferring the physiognomies of prosperous Americans to canvas. They have made many visits to Europe, and in their Bloor Street sTumo are many studies of architecture and street scenes in the quaint old towns of Germany. In 1898 he was elected an Academician of the Royal Canadian Academy—his diploma work being “Westminster Abbey, Evening.”

He is a devotee of the ancient vogue of yachting and of the modern cult of automobilism ; the latter is a vast help to him as a painter, for often he motors to some secluded spot or other and picks up many pleasant “bits.” His fame as a painter of portraits stands high ; his manner is much after the Constant pose, the head well thrown back. Knowles’ work is marked by graceful arrangement, fine attention to details, signifi-

cant colors, and richness of finish. He is a rapid painter, indeed the moving spirit in his in a particular degree.

Mr. Knowles is quite a famous raraconteur. He keeps his friends vastly amused by his presentation of the humorous side of life. “During my student days,” he relates, “I once, at least, attained the very bathos of humor; but it was a terrible experience all the same. With a lot' of other fellows I used to go shooting in the fall.

The year of my adventure found us in the Sault district, and we all had dogs, thereby hangs my tale. In turns we had to skirmish for supplies. My duty one day was to go ever so far for milk and butter. My doggie, Sport, wished to go too, but I left him in camp and off I went alone. I got my load, and singing merrily I loped along. Presently I heard a curious rustling in the underwood behind me, and I became apprehensive, for wolves and bears had

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been prowling around. I stopped to listen—the noise stopped too—I was being followed! At each advance I felt sick at heart as the commotion approached nearer, and then I became aware of heavy breathing. See anything I could not, for it was growing dark. Having no defensive arms what could I do—run? Well, that proved fatal, but run I did, never so fast in all my life, but the horrid thing behind kept pace. I could almost feel the beast’s breath ! I had still far to go, but I shouted, and. at last, I stumbled into camp yelling ‘Bear’ at the top of my voice! Everybody rushed about to seize the readiest weapon, whilst ‘Sport’ slunk deprecatingly behind looking up pleadingly enough—the cause of all the nub-bub! Sport had tracked me—his was the noise, his the breathing—he was my bear! For years after, however, the name ‘Bear’ clung to me .

Aimkier laughable story is thrilling ágjÉgfPráinting peacefully a pleasant W of Canada, not far from Quebec, one hot summer’s day, I had over me,” Knowles relates, “a painter’s white canvas sunshade. Delighted with the amenity of the afternoon, I enjoyed

myself thoroughly, but after a time I was conscious of a sound behind me—a heavy ominous sound. What could it be? I turned, and as I did so a very big

and savage bull lowered his head and charged! All I could do to avoid his sharp horns was adroitly to slip to one side; but my useful umbrella was impaled upon his horns. Me he forgot, but he went tearing around the meadow with this terrible thing on his head. I never saw a madder bull in all my life, and I have painted many !” Mrs. Knowles is a prominent figure in Toronto society. For many years she was president of the “Home Musical Club” ; on retirement she was elected honorary president, which position she still holds. . She has also been first vicepresident of the “Heliconian Club,” an association of professional womenpainters, writers and musicians of Toronto. Both she and her gifted husband deplore the superficiality and want of thoroughness which so sadly mars many a promising career in art and craft. The method of the Knowles’ studio—where the life school and costume classes are thronged with pupils— is the development of a pupil’s individuality in sense and application. It’s best worn maxims are: “Keep close to Nature” and “Never cease taking pains.”