Born in Belleville, Ontario in 1873, James Lillie Graham’s renditions of animals were once considered to be among the best in Canada. Known for his pastoral landscapes, Graham’s ability to capture cattle and their actions resulted in beautiful snapshots of the Canadian countryside. 

Graham was a highly trained painter and studied art extensively both locally and internationally. Starting his studies in 1890 at the Montreal Art Association with William Brymner, followed by studies at l’Ecole des Arts et Manufactures, Montreal with RCA painter and educator Edmond Dyonnet, Graham gained firsthand experience from some of Canada’s most influential artists. In 1896, Graham travelled to London, England where he studied at the Slade School of Art under the guidance of Fred Brown and Henry Tonks. His studies continued in Paris at the Academie Julian under Jean-Paul Laurens as well as a short stint at Antwerp’s Institute des Beaux Arts under Julian De Vriend. During this period, he also held a teaching position at his alma mater, l’Ecole des Arts et Manufactures, in Montreal. He was appointed as an Associate of the Royal Canadian Academy in 1894. After a decade of extensive travelling between Canada, the United Kingdom and Europe, Graham returned home in 1910. 


Upon his return, Graham exhibited The Prodigal Son, painted during his studies in Holland, at the Art Association of Montreal Spring. The Prodigal Son won “The Jessie Dow Prize” for oils. He was awarded this prize again in 1924 for his Place d’Armes Montreal, which is now included in the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec’s permanent collection. Graham’s work was exhibited alongside Maurice Cullen, Laura Muntz and Robert Harris among others, at the Canadian Art Club which was in existence from 1907 to 1915. 

In 1965, The Montreal Gazette reported a missing artist in Gatineau Hills; Graham was visiting his nephew at his cottage for a few weeks when he disappeared. Although near the end of his life, Graham was said to be in good mental and physical health upon his disappearance. 


It is unclear where Graham adopted his impressionist style. It is possible that his teacher, Henry Tonks, one of the first British artists to be influenced by the French Impressionists, inspired Graham’s adoption of the impressionist style. For Graham, his use of impressionist painting techniques was a means to convey the narratives that permeate his work. The coupling of technique and narrative resulted in a body of work that captures the essence of the Canadian landscape and its inhabitants. 

Graham’s work can be found in prominent Canadian art collections, including the National Gallery of Canada and the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec. 

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