John William Beatty
1869 - 1941
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John William Beatty was born in 1869 in Toronto. He received his early artistic training from his father, a sign and house painter, and gained employment at an engraving firm as a teenager. He then joined the 10th Grenadiers as a bugler and served against Louis Rièl in the Northwest Rebellion. Following his military service, he married and worked for almost 10 years as a house painter. He then changed his career and spent 11 years (1889-1900) working as a fireman for the City of Toronto.
He began his artistic career as a painter in 1894. He studied at the Central Ontario School of Art under J.W.L. Forster and later, in 1900, at the Académie Julien in Paris. He travelled throughout Europe from 1906 to 1909 and returned home with many dark, rich, moody paintings of Dutch peasant life. By 1909 he was pursuing the depiction of Canadian landscape as a patriotic statement, a passion he shared with members of the Group of Seven.
Beatty was a member of the Toronto Arts and Letters Club. He undertook sketching trips with with Lawren Harris as early as 1909 and used a studio in the Studio Building which Harris built to foster creativity among Canadian artists. He travelled to the Rocky Mountains with A.Y. Jackson in 1914, and with Jackson and Arthur Lismer in Algonquin Park the same year. Beatty was a friend and early influence on Tom Thomson and, with J.E.H. MacDonald, he built the memorial cairn to Thomson at Canoe Lake in 1917. Beatty was commissioned as a war artist to the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1917 and was in Britain and France March until October 1918. After his return, he withdrew from the more avant-garde activities of his Toronto painting colleagues and is consequently known today as a forerunner of, rather than a participant in, the movement which became the Group of Seven in 1920.
Beatty taught at the Ontario College of Art from 1912 to 1941. He also founded and ran the summer school there from 1913-1935. As the summer school was attended by a great many school teachers, Beatty had an enormous, if indirect, influence on the development of the teaching of art in Ontario. In 1911, the National Gallery of Canada acquired his Evening Cloud of the Northland, which remains his masterpiece. His palette brightened with the years; Beatty's late paintings are decorative in nature.