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Florence Helena McGillivray

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Florence Helena McGillivray
Florence H. McGillivray, 1937.png
Florence H. McGillivray, 1937
Born(1864-03-01)March 1, 1864
DiedMay 7, 1938(1938-05-07) (aged 74)
EducationCentral Ontario School of Art, Academie de la Grande Chaumière
Known forPainting

Florence Helena McGillivray (1864–1938), was a landscape painter from Ontario, Canada. Though McGillivray's main talent was landscape painting, she also practiced sketching during her career. Her paintings depicted many locations on the Gatineau River, the Val-des-Bois, the Ottawa River at Fort Coulonge and many more environmental scenes.[1]

Known for her impressionistic style, McGillivray studied in Paris in 1913, and later became a teacher and critic.[2] McGillivray's contemporary art included textured, painterly brushstrokes and compelling colour choices. Florence was a contemporary of the Group of Seven. She was one mentor for the influential Canadian painter Tom Thomson.

In the 1920s, McGillivrays career exploded. Her art mainly was influenced by the post-impressionism and Fauvist movements. McGillivray lived in Toronto and Ottawa but travelled often to pursue transforming the reality of nature into her work. She visited Europe, where she discovered art nouveau, Alaska, Jamaica and Trinidad. Exhibition locations include Toronto Malloney's, Continental Galleries, Montreal, and her own studio in her hometown.

The National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Art Gallery of Hamilton, the Agnes Etherington Art Centre and galleries in Kitchener, London, and Windsor all hold her work in their collections. McGillivray was a member of many associations like the Ontario Society of Artists, the Society of Women Painters and Sculptors, The Royal Canadian Academy, and the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour.[2] Florence Helena McGillivray died in Toronto on May 7, 1938, and is buried at Union Cemetery, Oshawa.

Early life[edit]

Florence Helena McGillivray, 1907

Florence Helena McGillivray was born in the small farm town of Whitby, Ontario on March 1, 1864. She is the second youngest child of Scottish immigrant farmer, George McGillivray (1813-1894) and his wife, Caroline Amelia Fothergill McGillivray (1828-1909). McGillivray had three siblings; Elizabeth Fothergill McGillivray Hillary (1847-1877), Mary Eliza McGillivray (1849-1911) and William McGillivray (1865-1904).

In 1870, the family moved to Inverlynn house located at 1300 Gifford Street in Whitby, Ontario. To this day, the property has remained in the possession of George McGillivrays descendants. The children attended a grammar school in Whitby, and she had shown artistic talent in her early childhood years so she pursued her art by attending The Central Ontario School of Art, where she studied under Professor William Cruikshank. Florence then began taking one-on-one lessons from renowned Canadian artists such as Farquhar McGillivray Knowles and Lucius O’Brien to name only a few.[3] Florence was greatly influenced by Modernists painters which continued through her career.


After studying at the Ontario School of Art, McGillivray had private lessons with J.W.L. Foster, Lucius O'Brien and Farquhar McGillivray Knowles.[4] During the decade of 1900, she worked as a teacher in Whitby at the Ontario Ladies’ College (now Trafalgar Castle School) and as an art critic at Pickering College in Pickering, Ontario.[4]

In 1913, she went to France to continue her studies at the Academie de la Grande Chaumière under Lucien Simon and Menard.

Artistic career[edit]

Afterglow, c. 1914, Florence H. McGillivray Canadian, 1864 - 1938 oil on paperboard 42 x 57.5 cm. National Gallery of Canada (no. 1041)

McGillivray specialized as a landscape painter. She had a brilliant and unusual handling of brushwork that created unique compositions.[4] In her earlier career, she painted china after studying at the pottery studio of Marshall Fry, in New York, and sold her pieces from her studio in Whitby where she also gave painting lessons.

She was one of the first women artists to explore landscapes of the wilderness of Ontario and Quebec. She was part of the small group of artists that liked the romantic-realist view of the railway artists and the heroic view of the landscape in the 1890s that characterized the work of the Group of Seven and their adherents following the Great War.[5]

Throughout her life, she travelled around Canada, the United States, Jamaica, Trinidad, the Bahamas and Europe, to France, England and Italy, looking for new and challenging landscapes to paint.

Contentment, c. 1913. Florence H. McGillivray Canadian, 1864 - 1938 oil on cardboard 41 x 32.7 cm Art Gallery of Ontario
Midwinter, Dunbarton, Ontario, 1918 Florence H. McGillivray Canadian, 1864 - 1938, Watercolour over graphite on illustration board 40.2 x 50.6 cm, Purchased 1918 National Gallery of Canada (no. 1490)

In 1913, while in Paris, McGillvray had her painting Contentment (1913) exposed at the Salon des Beaux Arts in Paris, the first great achievement on her career. In the same year, she was also elected president of the International Art Union.[3]

McGillivray moved back to Canada in 1917. The most prolific and vibrant phase of her artistic career was during 1920 while she lived in Ottawa, where she set up a studio at Frank Street. [iv] Her work from this period is rich colour and texture, reflecting the Post-Impressionist and Fauvist movements she had encountered in Europe. [v]

The work from her Frank Street studio exploded with colour and texture, reflecting the Post-Impressionist and Fauvist movements she had encountered in Europe. She had a method of rendering forms in massed areas of colour applied in places with the palette knife and strong black lines around forms, a style never seen in Canada before her work.[6] This technique was also used by Tom Thomson, who admired her work and said "she is one of the best".[6]

Three of her paintings are part of the National Gallery of Canada collection, Midwinter, Dunbarton, Ontario (1918), Afterglow (1914), St. Anthony Harbour, Newfoundland, (1926).[7]


  • 1913 Paris Salon des Beaux Arts, exhibited Contentment
  • 1914 - 1935 exhibited with the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts
  • 1917 - 1938 exhibited with the Ontario Society of Artists
  • 1920 - 1930 exhibition venues included Malloney's in Toronto, Continental Galleries in Montreal; and artist's own Frank Street Studio in Ottawa
  • 1924 British Empire Exhibition, Canadian Section of Fine Arts, Wembley, England
  • 1927 Exposition d’art canadien, Musee du Jeu de Paume, Paris
  • 1928 Exhibition of Paintings of At Home and Abroad by F.H. Mc Gillivray, A.R.C.A., O.S.A., Art Association of Montreal
  • 1970 retrospective exhibition, Whitby Arts, Whitby, Ontario
  • 2002 The Birth of the Modern: Post-Impressionism in Canadian Art, c.1900-1920, Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa; travelled to Montreal, London (Ontario), Fredericton, and Winnipeg
  • 2017 Finding Florence, retrospective exhibition, Station Gallery, Whitby, Ontario [8]


Florence Helena McGillivray was affiliated with multiple of associations, groups and artists during her lifetime. One of the most famous groups that she was associated with was the Group of Seven. Her art works expresses the view of landscape in bold colours could be categorize later on as part of the Group of Seven landscape painting that captures the two visions of the land: the romantic-realist view of the railway artists of the 1880s and they heroic view of the land-scape in the 1890s.[3] She then joined the Women Art Association of Canada where she was influenced by Mary E. Dignam, its founding president.[3] McGillivray was welcomed into communities and numerous social affairs which included the Society of Women Painters and Sculptors and the Women Art Club (Women Painters and Sculptors 1917) which were both centralized in New York City.[1] During the artist's time in New York she studied in the pottery studio of Marshall Fry and experimented with painting on china.[3]

McGillivray sold these pottery items in her home studio of Whitby where she also taught local residences of the community how to paint on china.[3] She became an instructor and a critic at an all boys’ school in Pickering College and an assistant art instructor at the Ontario's Ladies’ College in the 1900s.[9] The artist also helped shape fellow Canadian artist Tom Thomson, who was praised for his landscape paintings.[4] In 1913 during her trip in Paris, she met two artists by the name of Lucien Simon and Emile-Rene Menard at the Academie de la Grande Chaumière.[1] It was in Paris that McGillivray's works of art were acknowledged and was invited to display her paintings at the Salon des Beaus.[1] Not long later, the artist was voted as president of the International Union.[4] In the later years of McGillivray's life she was an associate member of the Canadian Society of Painters and Watercolour,[9] Ontario Society of Artists in 1917 and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1924.[3]

Influence and Style[edit]

St. Anthony Harbour, Newfoundland, Florence H. McGillivray Canadian, 1864 - 1938 oil on canvas 46.7 x 61.6 cm Purchased 1926 National Gallery of Canada (no. 3352)

McGillivray artworks were heavily influenced by the organic elements of nature that engulf her artistic skills. The artists traveled around Canada for inspiration in order to challenge the core definition of reality through disarranging objects from the precise manner.[3] She mimics the environment around her and expresses it through bold colours and contour of shapes.[3] Florence's artistic style stressed the "abstract qualities of lines, shapes and forms"[3] that was expressed in her work through large amount of paint applied by a palette knife in her oil paintings.[3] Working with the outdoors, the painter developed a unique style that defined her career as a contemporary artist.[3]

Her inspiration derived from various environments[3] including journeying through her hometown in Whitby, Gatineau Valley [2] and her voyage through Eastern Canada, including Newfoundland, Trinidad, Jamaica, Bahama Islands in the West Indies, Alaska, Eastern United States, Western Canada, Venice, Italy and the Swiss Alps.[1] The painter was seen as a contemporary artist working with several media which includes watercolour, pastel and oil.[3] During her trip to Europe, she had encountered new forming art styles of art nouveau and impressionism that impacted and influenced her art. Her artwork is expressed mainly with vivid colours of contouring shapes and dabs of paint that simplifies the form of an object.[3]

Later Years[edit]

McGillivray traveled extensively in search of new landscape scenery to paint. In 1930, by then in her mid-60s, McGillivray bought a house in Toronto where she retired.[3] She continued to paint primarily from the sketches she had accumulated from around the world, as a landscape painter, McGillivray found some prestige and recognition while alive, but not quite as much as Thomson, who she influenced with her modernist techniques. Painting landscapes in modernist style was not something expected from a woman in the early 1900s. McGillivray never married and left no children. She died at age 74 in Toronto, on May 7, 1938.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Canadian Women Artists History Initiative : Artist Database : Artists : MCGILLIVRAY, Florence Helena".
  2. ^ a b c Unknown. "Florence Helena McGillivray, 1906". Retrieved 2017-03-09.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "A Bridge A-Building". Retrieved 2017-03-09.
  4. ^ a b c d e Parkash, A.K. (2008). Independent Spirit: Early Canadian Women Artists. New York: Firefly Books. p. 355. ISBN 1554074177.
  5. ^ Tippett, Maria (1992). By a Lady: Celebrating Three Centuries of Art by Canadian Women. Toronto: Viking. ISBN 0140169555.
  6. ^ a b Murray, Joan (1998). Tom Thomson: Design for a Canadian Hero. Toronto: Dundurn Press. pp. 76–77. ISBN 1550023152.
  7. ^ "Midwinter, Dunbarton, Ontario. Florence H. McGillivray 1918". Retrieved 2017-03-09.
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b "Florence Helena McGillivray, 1906".


  • Allen, Bill. "Up the Gatineau!" Following Florence XLII, 2016.
  • Art Gallery of Ontario. "The Canadian Collection." Art Gallery of Ontario, 288-289. New York: McGraw-Hill Company of Canada, 1970.
  • Canadian Women Artists History Initiative. 2016. Artist Database. August 15. Accessed January 2017.
  • Haggo, Regina, "Florence McGillivray Tamed Nature with a Brush," The Spectator (2017) Accessed January, 2017. florence-mcgillivray-tamed-nature-with-a-brush/
  • Murray, Joan. Tom Thomson: Design For a Canadian Hero. Toronto, Ont.: Dundurn Press, 1998. 76-77. Canadian Electronic Library/desLibris. Web. 23 Jan. 2017.
  • Royal Canadian Academy Annual Exhibition: (Montreal, November 18, 1937) "Royal Canadian Academy Show is Opened at Art Association. Portraiture Represented by Good Examples and Landscapes as Usual Predominate." Gazette (Montreal) November 19, 1937. P.12.
  • Ten-Doesschate Chu, Petra and Touborg, Sarah. Nineteenth Century European Art. Upper Saddle, NJ: Pearson Education, 2006.
  • Tippett, Maria. By a lady: Celebrating Three Centuries of Art by Canadian Women. Toronto: Viking, 1992.
  • Prakash, A. K. Independent Spirit, 355 & 399. New York: Firefly Books, 2008.
  • Whitby Archives. 2016. Archives at Whitby Public Library. Accessed January 2017.

Further reading[edit]

  • A. K. Prakash (2008), Independent spirit: Early Canadian Women Artists, Firefly Press, ISBN 9781554074174
  • Agnes Etherington Art Centre (2008), Permanent collection, 1968, University of Michigan
  • Art Gallery of Ontario (1970), Art Gallery of Ontario: A Canadian Collection, McGraw-Hill Company of Canada, ISBN 9780070925045
  • W.C Allen (2016), A Collection of Works by Florence Helena McGillivray, Friesen Press, ISBN 9781460285718