Charles Comfort

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Charles Comfort
Charles Comfort Painting in Italy.jpg
Comfort painting in the area around Ortona, Italy, on duty as a World War II war artist.
Born22 July 1900
DiedJuly 5, 1994(1994-07-05) (aged 93)
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Known forPainting
Notable work
Tadoussac, 1935, Captain Vancouver, 1937, BC Pageant 1951
AwardsOrder of Canada, 1972

Charles Fraser Comfort, OC (July 22, 1900 – July 5, 1994) was a Canadian painter, sculptor, teacher, writer and administrator.

Career and biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Born near Edinburgh, Scotland, Comfort moved to Winnipeg in 1912 with his family. His father found work with the treasury department for the city of Winnipeg. Comfort as the eldest child had to work from a young age to help support his family.[1] In 1914, he began work as a commercial artist at the newly established Brigdens Limited commercial art branch office in Winnipeg, and by 1916 Comfort started attending evening classes at the Winnipeg School of Art.

Comfort saved money to attend the Art Students League of New York under Robert Henri and Euphrasius Tucker. Still working part-time for Brigdens commercial studio, he was temporarily transferred to Toronto in 1919. While in Toronto, Comfort joined the Arts and Letters Club, taking life-study classes and meeting members of the Group of Seven. Comfort visited the Group's inaugural 1920 exhibition, which inspired Comfort to work on landscape paintings, a theme he continued throughout his lifetime.[2]

Comfort returned to Winnipeg in 1922 for his first exhibition of watercolours at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. During this time, he met LeMoine Fitzgerald and Walter J. Phillips. It was not until 1925 that Comfort painted his first oil painting, when he returned to Toronto where he befriended Will Ogilvie, who may have influenced this switch to oil.[2] In 1928 he painted a striking watercolour portrait of violinist Alexander Chuhaldin with his Amati violin, with a copy of the Natalia Goncharova set design for Le Coq d'Or in the background (painting now in the Art Gallery of Hamilton).[3]

Mid-career and work as a war artist[edit]

Comfort's Tadoussac of 1935.

In the 1930s, Comfort regularly worked as a commercial illustrator as well as a teacher at the Ontario College of Art and Design from 1935-1938. He subsequently held by a teaching position at the University of Toronto, a post he continued after the war until 1960.[4] He taught primarily painting techniques, including mural-painting, and other studio courses later in his career at the university.

He was commissioned to design a mural for Toronto's North American Life Building in 1932, the first in many he completed. The following year he met the American Precisionist Charles Sheeler. One of the artist's most celebrated works, Tadoussac of 1935, suggests the influence of Sheeler due to its clear crisp colours and shapes.[2]

Toronto Stock Exchange facade, with Comfort's frieze

In 1936, Comfort rented a studio next to a room occupied by A. Y. Jackson, in the Studio Building, a warehouse made famous by the Group of Seven artists, and the following year he designed the exterior frieze and interior murals for the Toronto Stock Exchange. He was one of the organizers of the 1941 Kingston Conference, a meeting of Canadian artists to discuss the role of art in society as well as other issues facing the arts at the time. Comfort helped to initiate Canada's World War II War Art program, serving as an official war artist in World War II, travelling by sea in November 1943 to work alongside Canadian forces in Italy with the field historian Samuel Hughes. He left an important body of work that records Canada's war effort abroad. Furthermore, he was a founding member of the Federation of Canadian Artists and contributed to the 1951 Massey Report, which led to the founding of the Canada Council. an organization that Comfort helped establish.[2] In 1954 he was one of eighteen Canadian artists commissioned by the Canadian Pacific Railway to paint a mural for the interior of one of the new Park cars entering service on the new Canadian transcontinental train. Each of the murals depicted a different national or provincial park; Comfort's was Banff National Park.[5]

Director of National Gallery 1960-65[edit]

After the war, Comfort served on the Board of Directors and various committees at the Art Gallery of Toronto, and was Director of the National Gallery of Canada from 1959 until 1965. He was also a member of the Canadian Society of Graphic Art, Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour, and Canadian Group of Painters, and held executive positions in a number of art organizations. He received an honorary doctorate from Mount Allison University in 1958. He was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.[6]

His extensive involvement during his life with artist's organizations indicates his strong belief in the importance of art integrated within society.[2] In 1972, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.


A posthumous 3/4 length portrait of No. 1557 Colonel William Reginald Sawyer, Director of Studies 1948-1967 standing in front of the Mackenzie Building and the Stone Frigate in his academic robes was commissioned by Charles Fraser Comfort (1900-1994) for the Royal Military College of Canada.[7]

First Nations criticism[edit]

Comfort's now controversial Captain Vancouver, completed in 1939.

The Canadian National Railway commissioned Captain Vancouver for Hotel Vancouver in 1939. After months of research and planning, Comfort decided to depict a hypothetical encounter between Captain George Vancouver and an unnamed Indian chief at a potlatch ceremony. Comfort researched the clothing of the era and consulted Aboriginal anthropologist Dr. Marius Barbeau and others. The painting was removed in 1969 when the hotel was renovated. The wife of Governor General of Canada Roland Michener discovered the work after it was briefly misplaced and donated it to the University of British Columbia. From this time aboriginal viewers have raised concern over the representation of the First Nations people, as Captain Vancouver physically stands triumphantly over the aboriginal men.[8]

In 1997, Kwakiutl artist David Neel made the Captain Vancouver Portrait Mask, a carved mixed-media mask of the captain. Neel made this work to critique the mural and its depiction of First Nations history and society.[9] Also in 1997, Edmonton-based artist Jane Ash Poitras painted a new mural representing the same scene with the intention to critique and re-negotiate Comfort's depiction of First Nations people. [10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gray, 4.
  2. ^ Interview with Charles Comfort, 3 October 1973, Canadian Painting in the Thirties Exhibition Records, National Gallery of Canada Fonds, National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives
  3. ^ Reid, 186-187.
  4. ^ "The 50th Anniversary of the CPR Stainless Steel Passenger Fleet" (PDF). Canadian Rail (503): 211–223. November–December 2004.
  5. ^ "Members since 1880". Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. Archived from the original on 26 May 2011. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  6. ^ Kamille Parkinson, PhD 'An Impressive Art Collection at RMCC' (Kingston, E-veritas, June 25, 2012
  7. ^ Gray, 20-22.
  8. ^ "Telling Stories: Narratives of Nationhood". Confederation Centre Art Gallery. Retrieved 2008-11-01.
  9. ^ MacAndrew, Barbara (23 June 1997). "Native Art Honoured at Festival". The Globe and Mail: Arts Section. p. C1.


  • "Charles Fraser Comfort (1900-1994)". Library and Archives Canada. Archived from the original on February 26, 2005. Retrieved August 8, 2005.
  • Charles Fraser Comfort: fifty years Winnipeg: Winnipeg Art Gallery, 1972.
  • Charles Fraser Comfort, the war years. Ottawa : Canadian War Museum, 1979.
  • Gray, Margaret. Charles Comfort Agincourt, Ontario: Gage Pub., c1976. ISBN 0-7715-9988-9
  • Hughes, Mary Jo. Take Comfort: The Career of Charles Comfort. Winnipeg: Winnipeg Art Gallery, 2007. ISBN 0-88915-237-3
  • Morse, Jennifer (1 May 2001). "War Art: Charles Comfort". Legion Magazine. Retrieved 2009-04-16.
  • Reid, Dennis A Concise History of Canadian Painting 2nd Edition. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-19-540663-X.

External links[edit]