The Earthly Paradise blog described a super 2011 exhibition at the Art Gallery of Alberta which focused on the Nature and Spirit: Emily Carr's Coastal Landscapes. In response, I admitted that my total knowledge of Canadian art was limited to The Group of Seven (originally Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, AY Jackson, Franz Johnston, Arthur Lismer, JE MacDonald and Frederick Varley), Emily Carr and some World War One artists who overlapped membership with the Group of Seven.
Only three weeks later I was watching an antiques programme on tv called Flog It (I know, I know *sigh*). One of the experts, James Lewis, was discussing a Canadian artist who had been establishing his art career straight after WW1 and was associated with the Group of Seven. I pricked up my ears and squinted at the small oil painting that had been found in a rubbish skip in Scotland. The painting was by Robert Wakeham Pilot (1898-1967) and despite its deplorable storage site, seemed to be in good condition.
James Lewis examining the Robert Pilot painting, presented at the Flog It programme, 2009
So who was Robert Pilot? He was born in Newfoundland in 1898 and moved to Montreal with his mother and his step-father (the artist Maurice Cullen) when he was just a lad. Despite there being no money in the family, he was able to study figure drawing at the Royal Canadian Academy and landscape painting with an experienced artist.
After serving in the army overseas in WW1, Pilot returned to Montreal and was invited to participate in the first Group of Seven exhibition in 1920. This was his first opportunity. His second opportunity came when some generous soul paid for the young artist to study in Paris. There he studied at the Academie Julian in 1920, was elected a member of the Salon National des Beaux-Arts and exhibited in the Paris Salon in 1922. It seems very likely that if he wasn’t a convinced impressionist before 1920, the Canadian impressionist style that Pilot preferred was moulded by his French experience.
I cannot find the name of the painting presented at the Flog It programme, nor its date. Canadian Impressionists are famed for the depiction of snow with the light shimmering on ice and snow. Perhaps a viewer closely examining the small painting would be able to see the Chateau Frontenac in the distance in Quebec City, the city lights reflected in the ice and water. Perhaps not. In any case, I have given another example of Robert Pilot's work (Twilight at Levis, 1933) in the photo below.
Back home in Canada Robert Pilot joined the Royal Canadian Academy, giving the public more opportunities to see his work. These days he is described as a close contemporary-colleague of the Group of Seven, but I would be interested to know how much Pilot shared studios, exhibitions, sales and publications with the more famous Group back in the 1920s and 30s.
The second half of his career was successful, artistically, academically and organisationally. He was elected president of the Royal Canadian Academy in 1952. Pilot died in 1967, and within a short time, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts mounted a fine retrospective exhibition to honour Pilot’s life.
Pilot, Twilight at Levis, 1933, 76 x 102 cm. The painting was first exhibited at the Royal Canadian Academy and was then bought by the National Gallery of Canada
Skips are, by definition, full of waste products. Nonetheless people can often find useful material in them, suitable for recycling. However who knew about post-WW1 Canadian oil paintings? The successful bidder at Flog It bought the Robert Pilot painting for £1900!