Personalities Under Studio Light

J. W. L. FORSTER October 1 1925

Personalities Under Studio Light

J. W. L. FORSTER October 1 1925

Personalities Under Studio Light


The Third of Three Articles

The fruit of a useful life is a kindly tolerance of one’s fellows, and a mellow outlook in which all things seem good. This is the spirit of Mr. Forster’s writing, after a life of intimate contact with the great figures of the Empire.

MY FIRST article sketched a few men of affairs as the artist sees them. The second had a group of Canadian statesmen under this sympathetic light. In this chapter are gathered a cluster of signal names from fields apart, emblazoned on a scroll of welldeserved renown.

On one of his visits to Toronto, as guest of Lieutenant-Governor Sir Mortimer Clark. Earl Grey came to my studio to see the portrait recently completed of General Booth. He asked at the same time to see other portraits and appeared to like particularly the one of the chief of the Salvation Army and the Goldwin Smith. He said, “There is another 'Booth’ I would like you to paint. When could you come to Ottawa?” That was the origin of happy visits at the Federal Capital, during which portraits of His Excellency, of John R. Booth, Hon. W. S. Fielding, Sir Sanford Fleming, Sir John Hanbury Williams and Miss Gladys Hanbury Williams were painted.

With the Earl a peculiar psychological condition arose, in the insistent presence of the members of the family, always, at sittings. No chance was given for that quiet intimacy and mutual understanding which are so helpful in bringing out the best. Their fear of His Excellency being bored seemed likely at times to create that very condition. Happily any such hint was kept out of the portrait.

Under the Earl and Lady Grey an atmosphere of indefinable excellence and a spirit of intelligent and hospitable cheer reigned in the mansion at Ottawa, with a grace as though hospitality was an instinct with both the Earl and Countess. Lord Grey was a man of vision. The Champlain Tercentenary at Quebec was a large and statesmanlike project, the concept and carrying out of which were fortuitous in bringing together on Canadian soil representatives of France, the United States, and Great Britain in a fraternal peace demonstration. The fundamentals of race unity in Canada were emphasized and brought well into display, in its splendid spectacular series of pageants and historic reviews on the Plains of Abraham, which were appreciated to the full in a sunny, inter-racial camaraderie. The event was epoch-making.

A Fine Fellow

AS GOVERNOR-GENERAL, Earl A Grey endeared himself to Canadians by his sincere and affable Canadianism.

Having a jaunt into the woods at one of the Booth lumber camps, he entered the dining hall and seated himself with the men at the long table. The men hesitated, but the Earl reached and took a piece of pie in his hand and commenced to eat. At once there was an exclamation, “Mon Dieu, oui, c'est a nous,” “By Jove! Come on, it's up to us,” and they all began their meal without embarrassment.

The Earl was always studying national and international matters. He would talk them over while I was at work. When Gifford Pinchot gave a great warning address on the exhaustion of continental forests, he at once wrote him and had him come as guest, for conference on Canada’s forest problems. Next he would discuss international salmon, seal, and turbot propositions with an ingenuity for keeping good will strong, with its exercise, between neighbors.

He came to his afternoon sittings one day in effervescent good humor. He had been out for a drive, and meeting a runaway team he jumped from his sleigh and stopped The driver, in maudlin gratitude, thanked him and ' :s name. He replied, “Grey.” “Well,” said he, v>lack or yellow7, you’re a d—d fine fellow”; amused the Earl.

generally known that the standard time was invented by Sir Sanford Fleming. ’ *»<■ a""ual meeting of the Royal founded. He sat for me owned by the Institute.

He was at the time working on the manuscript of importtant proposals to be made in the interests of science, and asked the privilege of continuing this work while the portrait was being painted. I painted him as so engaged. As he had only recently succeeded in having the system of standard time reckoning pretty generally adopted throughout the world, this is the reason for the “globe” with the “time bars” of his invention in the background of that picture. From that date I was honored with a friendship that brought extended visits to his Ottawa home, and the" many-faceted delights from stores of a masterful mind.

He was one of Canada’s most outstanding figures of the last generation. Engineer of Toronto harbor and esplanade; of the Northern Railway; the Intercolonial Railway and the Mountain Section of the Canadian Pacific Railway. He was a member of the Colonial Conference,' London, 1887, and the creative genius of the Colonial Conference, Ottawa, 1894, and author of the All-Red Cable ’round the world. His handsome and stalwart figure is missed from Canada’s capital, as is his leadership from its scholarly and public-spirited assemblies.

Sir Sanford’s eye for color lacked one reaction, namely, red. During sittings for three different portraits, one in the Royal Canadian Institute, one for Rideau Hall and

one for his own home, he freely indulged in humorous narratives of situations in which this so-called color-blindness played a part. As a yoüng man paying court to his future wife, he one day chose what seemed a fine piece of cloth and had his tailor in Toronto make him a suit from it. This he donned and started for a visit to the distant home of his fiancee. He was charmed with the merry parties all the way on the train to Prescott and on the stage to his destination, unconscious of the cause of amusement until the young lady answered his knock at the door, when she screamed with hilarity at his suit. It was a bright pinjd She chose his suits and neckties after that. While speaking of this defect in color sense, I am reminded that an English gentleman, also named Fleming, when visiting the studio mentioned his own visual lack of reaction to red. The same name and the same peculiarity were coincidences the student of ethnic history might find worth looking into.

That Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal was a man of most practical habit of mind will be given credence, when is known the measures he took to promote amongst employees of the Hudson’s Bay Company a knowledge of how to cook and camp in the open. This was from his own lips one day when he brought his hand down upon the desk, saying: “Teaching boys to cook a meal is sound sense. I came as a raw boy of eighteen to a northern Hudson’s Bay Post knowing nothing of roughing it. The crude methods then were banal except for some good ideas practised by Indians. When I got to Montreal I went into a bakery for a time and afterwards as a cook in a restaurant to learn the arts of c okery. I then, as junior factor, as factor and superintendent, gave all employees instruction how7 in this wray to take care of their health in camplife in the wilds.”

The sequel to this is arresting. His vigorous years enabled him to carry with ease the weight of great issues until he was ninety-eight. For years, and up into the ’nine ties, itwashis habit, he told me, to sustain himself on a Spartan diet, partaken twice daily. His routine of w7ork began with an appointment with his secretary at eight o’clock in the morning. The program never ceased, but was greatly varied by engagements, interviews or budgets of business until two o’clock the following morning, from w7hich hour he w7ould endeavor to sleep until seven and recommence his quite agreeable treadmill at eight.

Captured by Indians

THE climb of this Scottish lad.

Donald Smith, w7as by no sevenleague-boot stride, but was won by plodding perseverence up to knighthood. He told of leaving Glasgow when a shilling was of value to him. He wouldn’t throw that much away on a cart to convey his trunk but, like a true Scot, borrowed a wheelbarrow to carry it to the boat.

He rendered efficient service during the critical days of the taking over of the North West Territories from the Hudson's Bay Company by the Dominion of Canada. The Metis half breeds and their Indian friends, having been stirred to rebellion, the wrhite settlers at the Fort Garry post were in grave peril under this Indian attack. Donald Smith was taken prisoner by Riel, the leader; but through his marriage to a kinswoman of their chief, he got the ear of the Indians. His address to them broke the spell of their infatuation by showing the futility and unwisdom of their action. Many Indians withdrew before the arrival of General \\ olseley’s expedition.

Sir Donald, later, risked his all in the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway to bind the Dominion together. Again, as Canadian High Commissioner in London, his notable services to Canada and the British connections in far flung dominions won for him the peerage.

1 had many occasions of meeting this generous and great Canadian. It was his prompt response and good counsel that enabled me to be present, through Royal per-

mission, at the private service of thanksgiving for Her Majesty Queen Victoria and her household, at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, 1897, and to make studies for the painting of the memorable Jubilee occasion.

His note to the Marquis of Lome, then Governor of Windsor, brought a prompt reply and suggestion that I come to Windsor two or three days in advance. He placed me under direction of Very Rev. Dr. Elliot, Dean of Windsor, for guidance and aid in preliminary studies. In these I had to visualize the scene, with the candles lighted temporarily to give the peculiar combination of natural and artificial light.

During the service I had a seat beside Sir Arthur Sullivan, author of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. He had composed the music for this service. In our conversation he said Her Majesty had a broad and deep understanding of music’s power and persuasiveness, particularly in worship.

My picture was forgotten in the dignity and compelling spiritual passion of the liturgy and in the full significance of this hour.

I noticed a little by-play in exchanged glances between Prince Henry of Prussia and the Grand Duke Sergius of Russia when the lines: “Confound their politics, frustrate their knavish tricks” were being sung.

When the service ended I mingled unobtrusively, to study for mental photographs, amongst the state personalities representing the Emperors of Russia, and Germany, the King of Denmark and the royal family of Great Britain.

On return to London photographs were obtained of my royal subjects, and while memory was fresh the picture was painted. It is kept as a souvenir of an incident of deep meaning to the heart of Britons everywhere and to the annals of British history.

The year of the coronation of King Edward Seventh found me again in London. Canada, in that year, was represented by a large contingent of the Queen’s Own Rifles transported by Colonel Pellatt and Major Percy Mason.

The words of appreciation spoken to these officers by Field Marshal Earl Roberts, and his reference to the efficient service of men of that unit under General Otter in Africa, may have inspired them. At all events, almost immediately on their return to Canada a cable from them reached me:

“Get sittings Lord Roberts, Honorary Colonel of Queen’s Own.

(sgd.) Pellatt, Colonel.”


T ORD ROBERTS was one of the most •*—' courteous and clean-cut characters I have ever welcomed as portrait subject. Our first interview lasted about two minutes, because his manner made it so easy to say what was necessary. Having shown him the cabled order for his portrait for the “Queen’s Own” of

Canada, he gave his consent at once and arranged for uniform, equipment and sittings at my service. During those brief moments the view of his features, the action, pose and the style of picture 1 must paint were clearly presented to me. In our conversation during sittings, I happened to refer to the bane of the army in the old days. He answered, “Yes, when I entered the service it was hard upon young officers, and many bright careers were broken through drink.

The mess code was a tyranny. Fortunately an incident occurred in my first year that helped me greatly.” I understood at once this incident was the winning of the Victoria Cross for valor, and his messmates’ respect allowed him to keep sober as he desired. His example and precept did much to refine and dignify the officers’ mess in the Imperial service.

The sittings were given at his home on Portland Place. A surprise and pleasure came in the presence of Hon. Dr. R. A. Pyne, a cousin of my subject, at the final sitting.

The Field Marshal was very much occupied in attendance in his capacity as head of the War Department upon foreign representatives in the necessary state ceremonies; but I think the attitude of his distinguished secretary made difficult my getting the promised sittings.

It was this secretarial solicitude that was my severest trial, as it hindered sittings for weeks. In exasperation I appealed to Hon. Sir William Mulock, who was then in London. I knew his constitutional dislike of red tape, and told him of the impasse. He said, “I’ll see what can be done.”

I don’t know how he did it, but he did. Next morning a note from Earl Roberts was received giving me an appointment, and sittings for completion of the portrait followed. The day before the last sitting he was given two distinguished foreign orders, and with the help of his “Aid” a re-arrangement of the sequence of the ribbons on his “service tunic” had to be made which he examined critically with emphatic “Right! Right! Right!” to each in turn.

After the portrait was finished and brought away, a note from his secretary came to me to say, “The Field Marshal will be pleased to arrange for a sitting if you will call next day.” I had just time before catching the train to acknowledge it with cordial thanks.

Sir William Mulock

THIS was not my first meeting with Sir William Mulock. A commission had been given some years before for a portrait of the Vice-Chancellor, now Chancellor, of Toronto University. Having made an appointment with Sir William Mulock at his Newmarket home,

where he was resting under doctor's orders, I met his secretary coming out, looking the picture of weariness; and he said, “Why not? I’ve just had seven hours at a stretch.” Going in, I found the quondam invalid plunging into another parliamentary document which he said would be run off in three hours. This is how some statesmen recuperate. That is why, as PostmasterGeneral, Mr. Mulock made the department net a surplus, on extending areas of service, and a reduced postage rate. Work becomes, to willing hearts, a luxury. Most truly did Elizabeth Barrett Browning write, “Get leave to work—for God, in cursing, gave more good, than men in benediction.” And again she says, “Get work, get work, and know ’tis better than what you work to get.” Carlyle said, “Work, when it is the expression of a noble spirit, can be welcomed as the truest of blessings for the enrichment of life. Ennoble the motive of doing, and work cannot be a curse.” As may be imagined, it was necessary to keep Sir, William's mind occupied during sittings. His industrial sympathies and experiments in farming supplied themes not destitute of keen humor, especially when spiced now and then with the stimulating by-plays of politics, which are not tabooed in the non-partizan atmosphere of the studio.

A Great Geologist

A PORTRAIT subject of another type, who F*brought to the studio more than usual impressiveness, was the late Dr. Willett G. Miller, chief of the Provincial Bureau of Mines. During sittings the studio was a rendezvous of jovial mining men, whose banter often took a round out of Miller. He, in calm good-humor, took the joke, till an opportune moment came, when he would set the jokers at odds amongst themselves. For instance, he quietly asked them if they had seen anything of Charlie— lately? The mention of the name brought recollections evidently of some mauvais contretemps or bad memories to the group for a wrangle seemed imminent and Miller’s eyes were meantime a limpid fountain of fun at their expense. Among them Jack Murray’s brain seemed a happy hunting ground of whimsical congruities.

I love working under these conditions, especially after my picture scheme is defined, for the best becomes possible. In the present instance one of the most successful piis to my credit. He is represented Work” in the Cobalt District organized and named.

I discovered Willett Miller sport in the noble meaning r being twitted by Germ Heidelberg on his p~ challenged, for his Coni'

Continued from page 25

clever bowlers to a series. Miller rose to the occasion and seemed to grow larger as he sent ball after ball down the alley to sweep the pins away. The winning Englishers looked for sportsmanlike compliments, but giving compliments to winners was not then the Continental habit.

In the villages and mining camps of Canada drafts, or checkers, is a popular game. There is always a champion checker player at these centres, who is of course made to test the credentials or standing of any newcomer.

One of the company usually interviews the stranger in a friendly way; another brings out board and checkers. Nods to Ned, Bill, Olaf, Mike or others of them, till one consents to play the stranger a game. The pluck or skill shown is their gauge of the visitor. On one occasion Miller modestly consented to play an easy game or two and an evening of deep interest was on for the camp. By a late hour it became known all through the camp that one of the greatest geological scientists and mineral experts was amongst them. Miller’s standing was confirmed. Had he not just completely beaten the champion checker player?

Dr. Miller’s work in the geological field was not destitute of thrills. He told of his hand being badly chafed by an ill-made paddle, and of poison getting, by some means, into the bruises. The whole hand became so fearfully festered one could see between the bones, and the arm was much inflamed. Had he been near medical advice, the hand and possibly the arm

would have been amputated. The pain was excruciating to the last degree, and he took the axe to a log to sever the member that was unlikely to be ever of use again, but Brock, one of the party, dissuaded him. It was a government expedition and could not be delayed. He was useless and was left at camp on an island alone in the wilderness.

Dean Brock told me they scarce expected on their return to find Miller sane, if alive. But his powerful constitution, his Quaker self-possession and mighty will enabled him to continue a self-directed treatment night and day, and the party were relieved onreturningin twelve days to find Miller quite all right and well under way to recovery.

Dr. Willett G. Miller’s great work has been the organization and orderly government of the rapidly developing mining areas of Ontario. Fortuitous incidents, luck we call them, accounted for many discoveries of minerals; heroic faith and desperate fascination of the prospector helped, too, in the phenomenal development of many districts. Clamor and confusion obliged Premier Ross and his government to take vigorous steps to bring order into this north land and Professor Miller of Queen’s University was appointed to the task. This task he accomplished in a spirit of noble and masterful self-forgetfulness. Hugh Marriott, the great English mining engineer, paid high tribute to Dr. Miller in one comprehensive phrase: “The nearest

approach to perfect altruism I ever ran across.”

His university degrees from Toronto, Heidelberg, Harvard and Queen’s may indicate equipment and scholarly distinction, but it was the careful judgment that refused to be stampeded and the decision to act that gave this handsome giant success as administrator of the Department of Mines. As president of the "Mining Institute of Ontario” author of 'Tre-Cambrian and Economic Geology of Ontario,” and as Chairman of the Geological Section of the British Association when death called him in the zenith of his powers, Miller passed, as Nordic heroes to their Valhalla, his name enshrined in the renown of his country.

I HAD an intimate and estimable friendship and fellowship with Rev. Thomas W. Jeffrey during many years that are happy in memories. Professor T. N. Carver has said, “The teacher, the preacher, or moral leader who can persuade people to abandon immoral and other wasteful habits, and to use their surplus powers on affairs of a productive and permanent order, rather than on things ephemeral, well deserves to stand among the greatest statesmen and nation builders.” From them I have often received illuminating suggestions, caught from their philosophic musings, as nourishment of the artist’s passion for selfdiscipline.

As preacher and minister, Thomas Jeffrey was in many respects notable. A Labor radical in his youth, he was sent in the Revolution of 1848 to France to promote the overthrow of Governments. In a Paris mob one of his compatriots was recognized and challenged. The Englishman accepted promptly and stated terms: “Breast to breast with pistols.” The mob made the Frenchman stand up to it. They both fell dead at Jeffrey’s feet.

Hearing an address by Morley Punshon in Exeter Hall, London, changed his life. He was a psychic and mystic of quite inspirational moods. Among the many similarly astonishing incidents and experiences he told, was one of driving past a farm house which was up a lane from the road, when he was urged by an inner voice to turn in and go to this house. He obeyed and rapped; but no answer; turned the knob and entered. All was silent, no response to his calls. He stood and prayed aloud for the protection of the owners and for blessing on all who came under their roof; then went on his way.

Three years afterward he had occasion to visit Kingston Penitentiary. On going through the wards an inmate beckoned to him and asked if he remembered calling and praying in a certain empty farm house. Mr. Jeffrey remembered, and asked why the question. The man said, “The house was not empty. I was in hiding, intending to rob the old couple who live there on their return home and murder them if I had to. Your prayer made me feel what a black sinner I was. When you had gone, I slipped away. 1 prayed all t hat night and God forgave me.

1 gave myself up to the authorities for other crimes to which 1 confessed and am serving time as I deserved. God bless you.

1 never cease to pray for you, for you saved my soul.”

Looking out from his Sherhourne Street parsonage lie saw a man he knew going down the far side of the street. He was on his way to a crime involving another. Jeffrey prayed that Divine vision be given the man to enable him to see the hideousness of the crime, and for strength to repent. The man stopped, turned about and went home. Jeffrey called upon him next day. The man told his part of the story, and Jeffrey told the other part, and the penitent vowed for a clean life and became a good and honored citizen.

When sitting for his portrait, the conversation touched a high theme and his countenance glowed with the enthusiasm of it. I went on painting what 1 saw in his face without special consciousness of its illumination, hut I had caught an effect in the portrait that arrested his attention. He looked at the picture from different angles, shaking his head and uttering a staccato, “No! No! No!" Puzzled and worried, I asked, “What’s wrong?" He answered, “Nothing wrong, hut you’ve caught a glow and a glory in mv face I never had; it represents a grace I \ o never yet attained": (after a pause), “Bu: by the grace of God. I will.” Tome it was an intimation of the possibility of calling out the best in my subjects and painting it, for which 1 thank the delightful memory of this remarkable man.

Bell—Inventor and Man

MY PROFESSION took me across the border and gained for me many estimable international acquaintances and friendships. None among them was more picturesque in figure or of greater historic note than Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. The sweep of ample silver hair and full beard on a large head poised on massive shoulders gave nobility of air to the great man he was.

He invited me to his Cape Breton home where sittings could be given under more leisurely conditions than Washington would allow. Beinn Bhreagh juts grandly out into the Bras d’Or Lakes, an arm of the sea. Here the first tests of heavierthan-air machines were made with his tetrahedral kite and with the Wright Brothers engine planes. And I saw the seventy-one knot stunts of the little amphibious zeppelin and whaleback boat. This opens up the story with a joke on me.

I went to Beinn Bhreagh to paint a portrait of him for a certain private collection. When it was completed and I was packing to leave, one of his sons-inlaw came merrily into the room exclaiming: “Forster, you’ve done what no one to my knowledge has accomplished for nineteen years, you’ve brought unity into this family.”

I asked for the joke. He answered: “They’re all agreed the portrait is perfect

and they’re all agreed that you shan’t have it.”

“But,” I protested, “how about Dr. Bell giving sittings for another portrait?”

“Oh, he’ll be delighted to give sittings, he’s having the time of his life.”

The portrait went to the Geographic Society’s home in Washington, founded by Graham Bell. Time was required to take up the second which I designed in different costume and style. That one I did not get, for Mrs. Bell, who had taken special interest in its production, claimed it; and I had to start over again with another quite new design.

When the third was finished, special compliments were paid, acclaiming it the best of the three, which were appreciated sincerely as I went about packing up my picture. Dr. Bell, however, made the situation clear by saying, “It’s no idle compliment, Mr. Forster; the portrait is wanted for the Volta Bureau in Washington.” I went to paint a picture as for myself; I painted three and didn’t get any of them. That was the joke on me. Later, at his Washington home, I painted a fourth, which I was able to retain.

In a rock hewn sepulchre at the summit of Beinn Bhreagh overlooking the expanse of the Bras d’or Lakes the form of this great inventor lies sleeping.

This is the third and concluding article of a series by Mr. Forster.