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William Berczy

2 - 1813

"To get on quickly, I have already done correct outlines of all the figures on paper in their relative proportions, which I will shade in for studies after tracing them onto canvas. Many parts, especially the clothing, I will try to finish first; for having completed studies in front of me, they will come all the more spirited and luminous." - William Berczy in a letter to his wife, Charlotte, dated 4 September 1808, on the preparatory work for The Woolsey Family

William Berczy is considered to be the finest Canadian painter of his time. Though he was also an accomplished architect and writer, he is best-known for exquisitely detailed portraits that reveal his skill as a miniaturist.

Berczy was born in Germany and spent his childhood at the Austrian court, where his father worked as a diplomat. It is likely that he received some artistic training at an early age, later studying at the Vienna Academy of the Arts and at the University of Jena. As a young man, he travelled widely in Europe, becoming interested in Neo-Classicism in Italy, and later exhibiting at the Royal Academy in London. Between 1791 and 1804, he set aside a burgeoning career as a miniaturist in England, in pursuit of adventure oversees. Hired to settle German immigrants in upstate New York, due to difficulties encountered upon their arrival, Berczy eventually settled them and his family in York (now Toronto), the new capital of Upper Canada. Several years followed, with Berczy designing and constructing buildings, painting, and pursuing litigious land claims and other business deals. He spent his last decade working primarily as a painter in Quebec, and traveling to promote his work and ideas.

The Woolsey Family and Portrait of Joseph Brant are masterpieces of Canadian art. The delicately rendered faces, and meticulous architectural and topographical details are typical of Berczy?s style, which won him numerous commissions amongst the wealthy citizens of Upper and Lower Canada in the pre-Confederation period.

William Berczy
With permission of the Royal Ontario Museum © ROM

Birth name

William Berczy

Born

Born in Wallerstein, Germany, before 1744-12-10

Died

Died in New York, New York, 05 February 1813

Nationality

German, Canadian

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