Artwork by John Wycliffe Lowes Forster,  Portrait of a Lady

J.W.L. Forster
Portrait of a Lady

oil on canvas
signed lower left
34 x 28 ins ( 86.4 x 71.1 cms )

Auction Estimate: $600.00$400.00 - $600.00

Price Realized $345.00
Sale date: March 8th 2017

Private Collection, Ontario

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John Wycliffe Lowes Forster
(1850 - 1938)

Born in Norval, Ontario, he went to Toronto at the age of 19, where he studied under portraitist J.W. Bridgman. He travelled to London in 1879, where he received instruction from C.S. Millard at the South Kensington Art School. From there he went to study in France at the Atelier Julian under Boulanger and Lefevre, where he found discontent from the younger men of which he skeptically commented, “… It might be likened to a midway at a fair, with a jangle of raucous harangues of would-be leaders of new styles and vogues and formulae, all clamouring for followers….” Leaving the school temporarily, he went to the calm of the Westmoreland hills of England, and returned to France refreshed with the reflection, “… I came to suspect that the more vehement protests were against hard work and were inspired sometimes by incompetence.”

This time, he studied at the Julian under Tony Robert-Fleury at the Rue d’Uzes atelier. He sketched a little girl who was ill and after she died gave the sketch to her parents. The sketch, seen by others, brought him a number of commissions. In 1880, two of his portraits were shown at the Spring Salon, where he was noted as being a pupil of Monsieur Bouguerau. At the Julian, he met William Blair Bruce and they sketched together at Barbizon. Forster shared a studio with Scottish landscapist Edwin S. Calbert at Quai de la Tournelle. Early in Forster’s third year, he won first place in a drawing contest, which led to private lessons under Bouguerau, whose methods brought the realization that much further study was required to become a colourist like his master. Of him, Forster wrote, “… His special interest in my work during the last year of a lengthened stay abroad calls forth, with deepest appreciation and gratitude, my esteem for the name and memory of this great master of the French School….”

Although Forster wanted to be a historical painter, he was continually encouraged by his colleagues to stick to portraits. Forster was soon convinced himself and spend a winter under Carolus-Duran, prominent French portrait painter. After his return to Toronto, he set up his studio on King Street and began filling commissions that had been waiting his return. In his book “Sight and Insight”, he explained how he was searching for the soul of his subjects, a philosophy which did much to make him one of Canada’s most outstanding portrait painters. In his other book, “Under The Studio Light”, he tells of the notable subjects who sat for him.

His canvas “Departure of Canada’s First Contingent for South Africa, 1899”, showing the ship Sardinian just before sailing, was destroyed during the fire of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa in 1915. Forster, by Royal permission, attended the thanksgiving service of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee at the St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle in 1897. To make studies for the occasion, he mingled unobtrusively with the state personalities from Russia, Germany, Denmark and members of the British Royal Family following the service. On another trip to England, he painted the portrait of Lord Roberts for the Queen’s Own Rifles of Toronto. Writing of this experience, he gave an example of his quick judgement, “…During those brief moments the view of his features, the action, the pose, and the style of the picture I must paint were clearly presented to me….”

In Forster’s book “Under The Studio Light”, the chapter entitled “Modern Crusaders” tells of the versatile missionaries who travelled the length of the West Coast and the Prairie provinces. He went to Japan in 1920 as a delegate to the World’s Sunday School Convention, where his visit was climaxed by the painting of the portraits of the Emperor Taisho and the Empress of Japan. The portraits were commissioned by the World’s Sunday School Association and were accepted by the Emperor and Empress. Forster was allowed only a brief look at Taisho and his wife when they were at the Ueno Station on their way to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo for winter residence. Writing of this experience he remarked, “… I cannot recall having ever before made such quick and careful mental snapshots as on this occasion, and they were of invaluable service after weeks of study….” Besides this brief glimpse, he was given the Emperor’s uniform and clothing worn by her Majesty. Photographs were supplied as an aid. In six weeks, he completed the task by working from seven in the morning to eleven at night.

Literature Source:
"A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume 1: A-F, 5th Edition, Revised and Expanded", compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1997