William Blair Bruce

Not only was Bruce a pioneer of Impressionist style in Canada but he was also one the most cosmopolitan painters of his generation. Born in Hamilton, Ontario, his education prompted him to set out for Paris, in 1881, to pursue his brilliant studies there. Enrolled at the Académie Julian, he benefited from the teachings of academic painters Adolphe-William Bouguereau and Tony Robert-Fleury. He had a passion for large-scale landscapes, a genre prized in the most popular salons, and made them his speciality. To hone his technique, he frequented the Barbizon school and mingled at various painters’ colonies (to which Paul Cézanne, Paul Signac, and Claude Monet belonged), particularly in the village of Giverny, on the banks of the Seine. “Under these influences, Bruce no longer used the forms in his paintings as mere surfaces; rather, he transformed them into pulsing light infused with mysteries to be discovered and captured on canvas,” writes art historian A.K. Prakash in Impressionism in Canada: A Journey of Rediscovery (Stuttgart, Arnoldsche Art Publishers, 2015). During these years, he also met Carolina Benedicks, a renowned sculptor from a prestigious Swedish family. The couple married in December 1888.

At the turn of the 20th century, Bruce moved to a home in Gotland, Sweden, where he could admire “a serene, expansive landscape that reminded [him] of the view across Lake Ontario from his childhood in Hamilton” (Prakash). Inspired by the insular landscape, Bruce continued his production of large-scale works for the salons and exhibited several times in Stockholm. He took part in the 1900 Paris Exposition and in the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, in 1901. His works were subsequently shown at the Royal Academy of Arts in London and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in Toronto. In 1906, at 47 years old, Bruce succumbed to heart disease. The following year, at Galerie Georges Petit, in Paris, his spouse organized a retrospective exhibition that brought together no fewer than 122 paintings.