Charles Jones Was was Born in Dartmouth, an important Royal Navy port located in Devon County, in southwestern England.  Way, whose father was an artist, manifested a talent for drawing and watercolour from a young age.  Between 1855 and 1858, he studied at London’s Somerset House then pursued his training at the Central School of Art, a public school also located in the capital: first at Marlborough House, and later at South Kensington under Sir Richard Redgrave, a renowned genre and landscape painter.  At that time, the young Charles would make copies of, in particular, Turner’s dramatic landscapes. 

Upon completing his studies, C.J. Way emigrated to Canada and more specifically to Montreal, where he set up a studio which doubled as an art school.  During the 1860s and 1870s, Way became one of the most important landscape and marine painters in the city.  Additionally, he was one of the most active artists affiliated with the famous Notman studio, which offered him unconditional support. He started out with watercolours and progressively worked his way towards oil painting. Way was the first artist in Canada to exhibit large watercolours in the style of Turner.  In 1860, he participated in the Industrial Exhibition held at the Crystal Palace, Montreal, where his work garnered him acclaim, notably in the September 1st edition of the Daily Witness: ‘The varied talent of this artist is visible in many parts of the room.’ The Art Association of Montreal (A.A.M.) offered one of his watercolours, The Royal Squadron in Gaspé Bay (see Notman’s photo, MMFA 1983.Ph.2),to the Prince of Wales, who was visiting Canada at the time.  The future King Edward VII had in fact selected the work.  This first canadian work had previously been purchased by the A.A.M., which was founded that same year.  In 1863, Way exhibited at Dawson Brothers in Montreal and at the National Academy of Design in New York.  His painting Shawinigan Falls was reproduced in Notman’s first portfolio, Photographic Selections, and also lauded by the press, solidifying his reputation as a landscape painter.  The following year, Notman published twelve photo reproductions of Way’s works in sepia in North American Scenery, an illustrated book comprising views of Quebec, Montreal, as well as the Saguenay, Gaspésie and Niagara regions.  These were purchased by Notman himself.  In 1864, then again in 1868, Way returned to London, England.  In 1865 he exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Royal Society of British Artists, and the Dublin Exhibition.

Ever active on the art scene, Way exercised an enduring influence on the Montreal painting community.  For example, as Dennis Reid writes, “The power of his work resides in his larger sense of composition and, more than in his sense of form and colour, it’s the artist’s ability to compose the image which, together with his perfect mastery of tone and texture, would certainly have impressed O’Brien” (Jon’s translation added) In 1869, Way was the first artist active in Canada to have a work enter the A.A.M.’s collection, thanks to an annual subsidy… a work painted in Corsica. The following year, in Montreal, he was elected president of the Society of Canadian Artists, a council member of the Board of Arts and Manufactures - where he was the only artist - and to the board the A.A.M. An Autumn Afternoon, Lake Magog, presented in Montreal in 1871, is described by a Daily Witness journalist as the best painting in show. In 1874, after a sojourn to London, Way settled in Lausanne - where he became a member of the Société des Peintres et Sculpteurs Suisses, all the while traveling in Europe (Switzerland, England and Italy) and New England. 

Charles Jones Way also returned to Canada on several occasions, helping to ensure his quasi-constant participation in exhibitions held by important art institutions and, then, until the end of his life.  In 1876, he presented six works in the dedicated Canadian section of the Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia, where he was awarded a silver medal.  Ten years later, he participated in the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London, England. He was an honourary founding member of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1880.  One of his works was presented in the Academy’s inaugural exhibition and reproduced in the April 24 edition of Canadian Illustrated News.  In 1893, he exhibited in World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. Among other places, Way’s work was regularly featured at the Art Association of Montreal (1864-1917), the Toronto Industrial Exhibition (1881-1901), the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in Ottawa (1881-1918) as well as at the Ontario Society of Artists in Toronto (1885-1900).

Beginning in 1898, while becoming a member of the Montreal Pen and Pencil Club and remaining an active member of the R.C.A., Way painted for the Canadian Pacific Railway (C.P.R.) Canadian landscapes of the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains.  Over the following two years, Way traveled to Montreal, Quebec, Charlevoix, Gaspésie and the Eastern Townships. From 1899-1900, Way was a resident at Fraser Hall, located at 9 University Street in Montreal at 33 Stanley Street, according to the RCA exhibition catalogue and the Lovell directory. That same year, the artist exhibited, among other artworks, four Canadian watercolours at the R.C.A. numbered 185 to 188: The noonday gun at Quebec, The Falls of St Ann, Summer Evening, Cap à l’Aigle et The Custom House, Quebec, and Birch trees.  Cap à l’Aigle (no. 115, $50) was exhibited at the A.A.M.  The latter earned Way an excellent review in the April 7 edition of the Montreal Herald, and is possibly the same painting titled Cap-à-l’Aigle in the collection of the MNBAQ.  In 1901, Way had an address in Toronto  where he presents at the Toronto Industrial Exhibition, a watercolour Rapids at Ste. Anne de Beaupré (no 152).  This was the last mention of the artist in Canada.


Mario Béland, Ph.D., MSRC, Art Historian

(All rights are reserved to Mario Béland, 2020) 

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