Canadian Painting in the Thirties

Biography: Goodridge Roberts

Goodridge Roberts
Canadian
Born Barbados: Bathesheba, 24 September 1904
Died in Montreal, Quebec, 28 January 1974

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"Must the artist, like the tight-rope walker in a dream-like state of composure, yet always aware of the gulf at his feet, feel both the elation and the uneasiness? One is made forcibly aware of the tension under which one has been working by the sense of relief with which one contemplates a work well done, or of extreme dejection before a badly realized work. There is no truce in this conflict until the brushes are laid down."
(Goodridge Roberts, 1953)

The Canadian painter, watercolourist and draughtsman Goodridge Roberts is best known for his landscapes of Quebec hills and fields. Using rapid brushstrokes and intense, warm colours, Roberts created a sense of vast space. In figure paintings and still lifes, he used the same loose style, always paying close attention to the relationship of forms.

Born into a family of poets, Goodridge Roberts spent two years studying at Montreal's École des Beaux-Arts, where he found inspiration in the work of James Wilson Morrice and Puvis de Chavannes. From 1926 to 1928, he studied at New York's Art Students League, under John Sloan, Max Weber and Boardman Robinson, who introduced him to the work of the Italian Primitives, especially Giotto, and the French Modernists. After finishing his studies, Roberts worked for a year as a draughtsman, before moving to Ottawa in 1930. He soon organized a class at the Ottawa Art Association, where he exhibited his work, and opened a summer school for painting in nearby Wakefield, in the Gatineau Valley. Over the years, Roberts would spend his summers painting in a number of different regions of Eastern Canada, including Georgian Bay, the Laurentians, Eastern Townships and Charlevoix.

In 1932, Roberts held his first solo exhibition at Montreal's Arts Club, where he came to the attention of John Lyman. Four years later, after a period as artist-in-residence at Queen's University, Kingston, he moved to Montreal, where he joined up with Ernest Neumann to open the Roberts-Neumann School of Art. He became a charter member of the Eastern Group of Painters and the Contemporary Arts Society in 1938 and 1939, respectively. He taught at the Art Association of Montreal for the better part of a decade, with a two-year gap during World War II, when he was stationed in England as an official war artist. In 1953, Roberts received a fellowship to paint in Europe, and spent several months in Paris, Italy and Agay, on the Côte d'Azur. In 1959, he was appointed the first artist-in-residence at the University of New Brunswick.

It was while living in the Gatineau in the early 1930s that Roberts created the series of rapidly executed watercolour sketches that helped to solidify his style. Lake Orford (1945) demonstrates his free brushwork, open composition and rich, nuanced colours. Nude Boy (1942) is an example of his figure work, with its characteristic frontal composition and strong contrasts of light and dark.

Among Roberts's many national and international exhibitions was the National Gallery of Canada's 1969 retrospective, a rare honour for a living artist. Roberts was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (1956) and the Order of Canada (1969). He held an honorary doctorate from the University of New Brunswick (1960).

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