Thomas Mower Martin, RCA, 1838-1934

Birch Trees | Thomas Mower Martin

Birch Trees | Thomas Mower Martin

Sight size: 13" x 7 3/4"
Price: SOLD

Details: Signed lower right "T.M. Martin RCA". Framed, triple archival matt, measures 21.5 X 16 inches.
Provenance: Private Collection.

Additional Information and Photos Available Upon Request

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Thomas Mower Martin is one of Canada’s
most respected historical watercolour artists


Thomas Mower Martin was born in London, England, in 1838, and was educated at military school, with the intention that he enter the East India Company.

Instead, T.Mower Martin became interested in drawing and drafting, and went to work for a building contractor, who so happened to be responsible for hanging pictures for the Royal Academy.

It was not long before the young man began to attend all of the Academy shows with a growing interest in painting.

T. Mower Martin decided to become a painter and studied watercolours. He continued, however, to work for the contractor and married Emma Nichols of Stratford, England.

Making a living as a draftsman was difficult on his small salary and T. Mower Martin turned his eyes to Canada during a period when the authorities were trying to entice settlers to take up farm land in Ontario.


T. Mower Martin picked out a location in the Muskoka region as advertised in the newspaper, 107 acres of farmland. He departed with his wife for Canada in 1862 full of hope for his new venture.

He built a house on the land and then discovered his property was mostly rock, with a few acres of swamp thrown in. He remained on the property for a year and made the best of a bad situation by hunting.

The Martins moved to a small farm at York Mill, and began commuting to Toronto where he set up a studio to be a painter. T. Mower Martin’s reputation grew and he was soon earning commissions, including six paintings for an American journalist.

In 1864, the Martins moved into an 11-room brick house on Crescent Road, Rosedale, Toronto, where T. Mower Martin also had a large studio.

Landscape Pioneer

By 1869, T. Mower Martin was advertising in the papers as a portrait painter but during his career he did mostly landscapes, animals in action, and still life pictures.

T. Mower Martin became a founding member of the Ontario Society of Artists in 1872. The artist had already been exhibiting with the Art Association of Montreal (since 1870).

In 1877, T. Mower Martin became the first director of the Ontario Government Art School. He taught oil painting to Lucius R. O’Brien and John Colin Forbes.

T. Mower Martin resigned from the school two years later to fulfil his ambition of travelling across Canada from coast to coast to paint scenes of the land.

In 1880, T. Mower Martin became a founding member of the Royal Canadian Academy.

Travelled Across Canada

Later, in the late 1880s he travelled west to paint in the Rocky Mountains with F.M. Bell-Smith and Marmaduke Matthews under the sponsorship of the Canadian Pacific Railway, who allowed them free passage. Afterwards he returned to Western Canada ten summers.

In 1907, a book featuring 77 T. Mower Martin’s paintings of Canada was published, with text written by Wilfred Campbell. The book gives the viewer an excellent sample of T. Mower Martin’s great ability in the use of colour, composition; detail in landscapes and animal paintings (buffalo, mountain goats and other game).

During his lifetime, T. Mower Martin became known as Canada’s oldest artist, remaining vigorous into his 90s.

T. Mower Martin continued to paint until just a few months before he died in 1934, at the age of 95.

T. Mower Martin’s work, painted over many decades across Canada, are held in major public galleries including the National Gallery of Canada, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Royal Ontario Museum, and the National Archives, to name a few.

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.