Robert Reginald Whale

Robert Reginald Whale, painter (b at Altarnum, Cornwall County, Eng 1805; d at Brantford, Ont 1887). Whale was one of the first professional artists to work in what is now southwestern Ontario. Best known for a handful of frequently reproduced landscapes - panoramic views of Hamilton and Dundas from the NIAGARA ESCARPMENT and of Niagara Falls - he also specialized in portraiture and genre painting. Like such Canadian contemporaries as James DUNCAN, GT Benthon, Daniel FOWLER, Paul KANE, Cornelius KRIEGHOFF and W.N. Cresswell, he belonged to a generation of largely immigrant painters who strove to adapt traditional European methods and conventions to the depiction of North American subjects. Although he never abandoned the Romantic mannerisms of the early 19th century, he embraced his adoptive country with openness and enthusiasm, celebrating not only the lush beauty of the Grand River valley and its historic associations with the Iroquois of the Six Nations Reserve outside Brantford, but also the coming of the railway and the birth of the modern industrial city.

Whale came from an extended family of talented stonemasons, carvers and decorative painters. Largely self-taught, he learned by copying the works of such English masters as Sir Joshua Reynolds and John Constable. Whale also revered the great 17th-century French landscape painter Claude Lorrain and his Welsh disciple, Richard Wilson.

Unable to support a growing family, Whale, his wife Ellen Heard and 5 children emigrated to Canada West (Ontario) in June 1852. They settled first in the rural village of Burford, then in 1864 moved to the nearby town of Brantford, where Whale established a family studio that employed his sons John Claude (1852-1905) and Robert Heard (1857-1906) and his nephew John Hicks Whale (1829-1905), all 3 of whom went on to establish professional careers of their own. From this base they submitted work in various genres to the annual provincial fairs, winning many prizes, and travelled the western Ontario circuit as itinerant portraitists and landscape painters. Among Whale's most noteworthy sitters were the Hamilton politician and industrialist Sir Allan Napier MACNAB; Hiram Capron, the founder of Paris, Ontario; and W.H. MERRITT, builder of the Welland Canal.

In the last decade of his life Whale painted in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. He became a member of the newly formed Ontario Society of Artists in 1872, and was elected an associate of the ROYAL CANADIAN ACADEMY in 1880.

Typical examples of Whale's work are to be found in the NATIONAL GALLERY OF CANADA, the ART GALLERY OF ONTARIO, the ART GALLERY OF HAMILTON, the ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM, the Art Gallery of St. Thomas-Elgin and the NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF CANADA, as well as in numerous private and corporate collections. In 1995 the Art Gallery of Hamilton mounted a major travelling retrospective entitled Figures in a Landscape: The Art of Robert Reginald Whale, which toured Canada throughout 1996-97.