Albert H. Robinson: "The Painter’s Painter"
Important paintings by Albert H. Robinson will be on view and for sale in our Montreal and Toronto Galleries. These fine works of art have been property of a prominent collector who for many decades primary focus was acquiring finest paintings by Albert H. Robinson.
Albert Robinson R.C.A. (1881-1956) is one of the foremost artists of the high period of modernist painting in Canada, a period which saw the development of a national school of art inspired by Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. A friend of A.Y. Jackson's, Robinson was one of three guests who participated in the first Group of Seven Exhibition in 1920 and he also exhibited with the Beaver Hall Group. Appropriately, he is celebrated in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts's ongoing national traveling exhibition, 1920s Modernism in Montreal: The Beaver Hall Group, currently at the Art Gallery of Windsor. In addition to having exhibited alongside both groups, Robinson benefitted from his close association to the foremost painters of his day.
Early in the 1910s, the artist was introduced by his patrons, Mr. and Mrs. Davies, to several significant artists from Montreal, including William Brymner, Edmund Dyonnet, Maurice Cullen and A.Y. Jackson. A lifelong friendship between Robinson and Jackson developed during their sketching trips to Le Havre (1911) and St. Malo (1912) in France. Besides the trips they made to Europe, they visited many villages along the Saint Lawrence, such as Cacouna in 1921 and the following year they went to Bienville, where Robinson painted Bienville, Québec, 1922 (below).
Robinson valued close artistic exchange with other artists and his patrons ensured his studio was well situated, near artists such as Horne Russell, Maurice Cullen, the Maxwell brothers (William and Edward), the Des Clayes sisters (Berthe, Alice and Gertrude) and his immediate neighbour, Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté, whose singing was often audible while he painted.
In his memoirs, Jackson recalls that Edwin Holgate also sketched with Robinson at La Malbaie in 1926, when La Malbaie (below) was most likely painted alongside several Holgates of the same region and year. Ours is a particularly significant example of a Robinson which is also featured on a full page of prominent art dealer G. Blair Laing’s Memoirs of an Art Dealer, Vol. II, on page 125 (1982).
La Malbaie, 1927
G. Blair Laing Limited, Toronto;
Private Collection, Montreal;
Galerie Walter Klinkhoff, Montréal;
Estate of the late Mr. William. I.M. Turner Jr., Montréal.
In the summers, Robinson exercised his connections to paint by the docks in Montreal, as in our Montreal Harbour (below), while in the winter he preferred to travel to the countryside. On his trips to the countryside, including Baie-Saint-Paul and Saint-Tite-des-Caps, Robinson and Jackson were also sometimes joined by Randolph Hewton, Clarence Gagnon and Dr. Frederick Banting.
Thomas R. Lee, in his private 1956 biography of Robinson offers perhaps the best description of Robinson, referring to him as "the painter’s painter,” meaning a painter other painters appreciate. Indeed, his paintings inspired an enviable slew of compliments from numerous high profile artists and others with whom he associated. Arthur Lismer, for instance, described him as:
A colorist of the first order. There is a wealth of graceful harmony in this simple picture that only comes into a work of art when the painter is sensitively aware of more subtle delicacies and qualities unknown – because (they are) unseen – to painters of less discernment.
Despite the appreciation he enjoyed among the artists of his day and an invitation to join the Group of Seven, Robinson confided to my father, Walter Klinkhoff, that he, “simply could not share the philosophy of the others [in the Group]” and “did not feel compelled to paint the remote wilderness of Canada, but preferred those inhabited places, particularly the Lower Saint-Lawrence region.” In 1951, the revered Canadian art critic, Robert Ayre, described Robinson's distinction from the group as follows:
His painting is not simply milder Group of Seven or coarser Morrice; he is a positive painter, with a view and style of his own. The Group did this, too, but Robinson was more reserved, he kept his refinement and instead of letting the landscape run away with him, as it sometimes did with the Group, he imposed his own discriminating sensibility upon it.
In the forward to the Walter Klinkhoff Gallery's 1962 Randolph Hewton retrospective exhibition catalogue, A.Y. Jackson recounted how he had been with Hewton when they receiving the news that Robinson was ill. In the spring of 1933, Jackson and Hewton had ventured to St. Urbain, where Robinson was to join them. "A letter informed us he was ill," Jackson wrote, "indeed so ill that he never went sketching again (A.Y. Jackson, forward to Randloph Hewton Retrospective Exhibition, Walter Klinkhoff Gallery, 1962) .
Thomas Lee, writing in 1956, described Robinson's illness as a "heart attack and ensuing complication," occurring "roughly 20 years ago" (Thomas R. Lee, Albert H. Robinson: The Painter's Painter, private pub., 1956). Lee also wrote that “Robinson is one of only three Canadians represented in the Luxembourg in Paris. (Morrice and Percy Woodcock are said to be the others.)” (Thomas R. Lee, Albert H. Robinson; The Painter’s Painter, 1956).
Robinson was honoured with a retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in 1955, to which Robert Pilot gave the opening address. "Studying the paintings in this exhibition", he said, "one is struck by their lyrical content - they are a song of the Canadian countryside" (Robert Pilot, opening address at the Albert H. Robinson Retrospective Exhibition, National Gallery Canada, 1955.) Robinson was also celebrated in 1982, with an exhibition curated by Jennifer Watson for the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, and then in 1994 in a non-selling retrospective at Walter Klinkhoff Gallery in Montreal.
It would be a pleasure to welcome anyone with an interest in particularly fine Canadian art to visit our rare and vetted selection of paintings by Albert H. Robinson at the Alan Klinkhoff Galleries at 113 Yorkville Avenue, Toronto and 1448 Sherbrooke Street West in Montreal.
Watson, Jennifer, Albert H. Robinson: The Mature Years. Kitchener-Waterloo Art, Gallery: 1982. Print.
Lee, Thomas R., “Painter’s Painter”, 1956 qtd in Retrospective Exhibition. Montreal: Galerie Walter Klinkhoff, 1994. Print.
Klinkhoff, Walter, Robert Pilot Retrospective Exhibition Catalogue. Montreal: Galerie Walter Klinkhoff, 1988. Print.