Henri Masson, RCA, 1907-1996

Henri Masson is remembered for his colourful
portrayals of everyday life in Canadian towns


Henri Masson was born in Belgium in 1907 and showed an interest in art starting when he was a child.

He immigrated to Canada with his mother in 1921, settling in Ottawa.

As a teenager, Henri Masson became an apprentice in a metal-engraving shop and by the age of 25 he had become a master engraver.

It was during visits to the National Gallery in Ottawa that he discovered the works of the Group of Seven, inspiring him to devote spare time to painting. He had taken art classes at the Ottawa Art Association, but otherwise he was largely self-taught.

By 1934, Henri Masson was already establishing a reputation as an artist, painting colourful landscapes and town scenes from Ottawa, Hull, Gatineau and other French-speaking areas. He continued to work as an engraver, supporting his family.

By the 1940s, Henri Masson was exhibiting his paintings at galleries in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal and having his works written about in major Canadian publications.

Henri Masson is best known for his paintings showing people at play or work, including children playing outdoor hockey (one of these was reproduced as a stamp), children singing in church choirs, musicians and fishermen patching nets. He also painted many forest, farm and town landscapes, as well as still lifes.

Over time, Henri Masson devoted more and more time to his paintings and earning solo exhibition spots. He exhibited at major group exhibitions in Canada as a member of The Canadian Group of Painters, the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colours and the Canadian Society of Graphic Arts.

He also participated in group exhibitions abroad including in New York, Rio de Janeiro, Paris, West Palm Beach, Washington, D.C. and New Delhi.

By the mid-1940s, Henri Masson worked full time as an artist, while also teaching art in his own studio and at various art schools, including at Queen’s University, Banff School of Fine Arts and others.

Henri Masson’s paintings are held in numerous public and private collections, including the National Gallery of Canada, Art Gallery of Ontario and the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

He died in 1996.

Source: A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, volumes 1-8 by Colin S. MacDonald, and volume 9 (online only), by Anne Newlands and Judith Parker. National Gallery of Canada, Artists in Canada database.