Artwork by Maurice Galbraith Cullen,  Signal Hill, St. John’s, Newfoundland

Maurice Cullen
Signal Hill, St. John’s, Newfoundland

oil on board
signed lower right; Cullen Inventory Number 517
13.75 x 9.75 ins ( 34.9 x 24.8 cms )

Private Collection, Newfoundland and Labrador
Robert Pilot, “Maurice Cullen, R.C.A.”, Address given at the Arts Club of Montreal, 1937, page 2
Sylvia Antoniou, “Maurice Cullen: 1866-1934”, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston, 1982, pages ix, 19 and 33, page 71 for an artwork entitled “Fishing Stages, Newfoundland” that shares similar compositional elements (circa 1911, National Gallery of Canada)
Maurice Cullen was born in St. John's, Newfoundland in 1866, then a British Colony. At the age of four, Cullen moved with his family to Montreal, which would become his home for the remainder of his life. Cullen would first return to the island in 1907, now an internationally trained and celebrated painter. Cullen's father, James, a Newfoundlander, was still living in St. John's and Cullen “no doubt went there to visit him and to paint on the island.” At least five works created during this visit would be included in the “Five Canadian Artists Exhibition” held in December at the Art Association of Montreal. It would be during this trip that Cullen would meet Barbara Pilot, a St. John's widow with five children. The couple would marry three years later with Cullen becoming step-father to the children, including Robert Pilot.

Sylvia Antoniou describes Maurice Cullen's depictions of Newfoundland as “a search for his historical roots”, noting that Cullen would return to St. John's to summer in 1910 and that “in November, even before his return, the Montreal press was anticipating the Newfoundland paintings.” The day before the fall Royal Canadian Academy show opened, J.W. Morrice wrote to the Globe's Newton MacTavish, “Cullen I see from the Montreal papers has painted a good picture of St. John's Newfoundland. He is the man in Canada who gets at the guts of things.” In discussing “Fishing Stages, Newfoundland”, which holds composition similarities with this painting, Antoniou describes the “oil sketch of the fishing stages found near the Narrows south of St. John's Harbour” as a work where “the brush stroke has a life of its own as an expressive visual element. The thickness of the paint and clearly separate strokes - sweeping broadly across one area, piling up the paint by quick short strokes in another, and elsewhere putting it on by single isolated draws of the brush - create the effect of the rough, powerful impact of the Atlantic Ocean.”

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Maurice Galbraith Cullen
(1866 - 1934) RCA

Maurice Cullen was born in St. John's Newfoundland, 1866. His family moved to Montreal in 1870. He studied sculpture at Monument National under Philippe Hebert. He assisted Hébert in the making of the Apostle figures for the facade of St. James Cathedral. The legacy left to him after the death of his mother in 1887 enabled him to travel to Paris and study sculpture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He was tremendously impressed by the work of Claude Monet and other Impressionists which swayed him to become a painter. He studied painting under Eli Delauney in 1889 at the Beaux-Arts and in 1892 left the school to paint landscapes at Moret, Every, and Le Pouldu. In 1894 five of his paintings were shown at the Salon. On a trip to Brittany he met the Norwegian painter Fritz Thaulow, they had much in common. Thaulow may have influenced him in choosing winter landscapes.

In 1895 he was elected Associate of the Societe nationale des Beaux-Arts, France. That same year he returned to Montreal where he opened a studio, making sketching trips along the St. Lawrence near Quebec City and Beaupre. By 1897 he was exhibited with the Royal Canadian Academy and participated in Spring Exhibitions of the Art Association of Montreal. At the time there was very little interest in Canadian snow scenes. In 1900 Cullen held an exhibition of his French and Canadian paintings at the Fraser Institute but sold none of these works. They offered little competition for the Dutch 19th Century paintings which were then in vogue. His lack of success left him undeterred however, and he continued sketching in Montreal and Levis. His night scenes of shops with their glowing windows reflecting light in the snowy streets, were breaking new ground by their “ordinary everyday subjects” as was noted by Dr. Hubbard in his book.

In 1907 Cullen was elected full member of the Royal Canadian Academy. He was a fine craftsman and was very careful with the media he used. He worked with thick surfaces throughout, or totally thin surfaces, and presently his canvases pose few problems for restorers. He seldom used more than eight colours in oil painting because he was wary of the manufactured colour blends. He made his own pastels from earths and other pigments which he then applied with a minimum of rubbing.

By the early teens he was exhibiting regularly with the Canadian Art Club in Toronto and in 1918 Cullen went to France as an official war artist with the rank of captain. One of his stepsons, Robert Pilot, became a distinguished painter and President if the Royal Canadian Academy. Cullen moved toward clearer atmospheres in his paintings and away from the soft and misty atmospheres of the French Impressionists. This development was perhaps epitomized in his canvas “Deep Pool”. He painted on the Island of Orleans with Horatio Walker, Edmond Dyonnet, and William Brymner and painted with F. S. Coburn whim he encouraged in winter landscapes, also James Wilson Morrice and others. He died at Chambly, Quebec, at the age of 68. A large retrospective exhibition of his works was held in 1956 at the National Gallery of Canada.

Source: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume I: A-F", compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1977