J.W. Beatty: Deserves the Spotlight

During his lifetime (1869-1941), John William Beatty’s artistic status was often overshadowed by that of his contemporaries.

Being overshadowed seems to be a recurring theme in the story of J.W. Beatty, both during his life and even now, some 70 years after his death.

Although a friend, painting buddy and acknowledged influencer of Group of Seven members, including Tom Thomson, J.W. Beatty’s paintings never soared to the same heights in popularity or price, then or now (although his Canoe Lake, Algonquin Park fetched an impressive personal record of $222,000 at Heffel’s 2009 auction).

Although respected and admired for his paintings, particularly his landscapes, J.W. Beatty may be better known in Canadian art history for being an art teacher, having taught and inspired at least one, if not two, generations of great Canadian artists (Read FineArtCollector.ca’s J.W. Beatty page HERE).

The list of J.W. Beatty pupils reads like a Who’s Who of Canadian art in the 21st century, including:

  • A.J. Casson
  • Tom Roberts
  • Franklin Arbuckle
  • Frederick Loveroff
  • Doris McCarthy
  • Bernice Fenwick Martin
  • Peter Clapham Sheppard
  • George Kulmala
  • Adrian Dingle
  • George Douglas Pepper
  • Arthur Alexander Drummond
  • Stanley Turner
  • Illingworth Kerr

Many of his pupils went on to eclipse J.W. Beatty in fame and the selling price of their works – there’s that recurring theme again.

It seems odd, even sad, to see some of J.W. Beatty’s paintings sell in the $2,000 to $4,000 price range, some even mysteriously going unsold at the low end of that range.

J.W. Beatty’s art doesn’t deserve the shadows. It’s time this Canadian master and his art be put back in the spotlight.

A major exhibit of J.W. Beatty’s beautiful art is overdue. But let’s put this great painter in context. Let’s give him his due by including beautiful works by his pupils. Let’s not just showcase J.W. Beatty the artist, let’s also pay tribute to J.W. Beatty the teacher.

Imagine an exhibit of J.W. Beatty’s best paintings side by side with stellar works by his many pupils, painting next to painting, the influence, the link, becoming clear by the careful selection of artists and works.

A major public gallery could do it best.

I’m suggesting the Art Gallery of Ontario. The AGO’s new Curator of Canadian art, Andrew Hunter, certainly has the credentials and background to pull it off.

I’m throwing the idea – the challenge – out there. Let’s see if the AGO or another major Canadian gallery will rise to the challenge and give J.W. Beatty, the painter and the teacher, his due.

–          Mark Skeffington, Fine Art Collector
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