John Little, RCA, 1928-

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John Little built a national reputation as an artist
mainly by painting street scenes from old Montreal


John Geoffrey Caruthers Little was born in Montreal in 1928.

He began his art studies at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts under Group of Seven member Arthur Lismer and Goodridge Roberts.

John Little later continued his studies in New York under Frank J. Reilley (an American painter, illustrator and popular art teacher) and Will Barnet (an artist/teacher known for his depictions of the human figure).

During his time in New York (in 1949), he also worked as an assistant to Ray Bailey on the then-popular aviation adventure comic strip Bruce Gentry (which ran in newspapers 1945-1951; it was also a comic book).

Montreal Street Scenes

Returning to Montreal, John Little became a draughtsman in his father’s architectural firm (Luke & Little) in 1951.

John Little married in 1953 and turned exclusively to painting.

The painter’s street scenes won him wide acclaim. John Little’s paintings of old Montreal and Quebec City streets, houses and countryside were exhibited at the Watson Art Galleries, which supported the launch of his career.

A 1957 solo show at Watson Galleries received a positive review by the Montreal Gazette, which praised John Little’s paintings for their “solid and literal” subject matter and fine drawing skills.

John Little’s 1950s paintings use vibrant colours to depict bustling streets busy with people going about their business.

In the 1960s, John Little moved away from brighter colours and depicted buildings in a more loose style, with less straight lines. Human figures are also less distinct.

Urban Landscape

By the 1970s, the painter had moved to a more modern, literal depiction of the urban landscape around him, a style that he would carry forward.

John Little offers almost a panoramic view along an inner-city street, showing architectural details from homes, cars parked along curbs, and often one person walking either away or towards the viewer. He painted streets bathed with sunlight in the summer, with people hanging out; he painted people walking in winter through ankle-deep slush.

Over his long career, now spanning 60 years, John Little was often recognized for preserving, at least in paint, old-world homes and buildings, which were being torn down in old Montreal and Quebec City.

Despite his focus on Quebec, John Little built a national reputation, and is recognized as one of the best artists of his generation.

The artist also drew covers for Maclean’s Magazine in which his great sense of humour blends with his artistic abilities to depict Canadians at work and play.

John Little became an Associate of the Royal Canadian Academy in 1961, and a full RCA member in 1973.

His paintings are held by the National Gallery of Canada, Montreal Museum of Modern Art and the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, and housed in many corporate and private collections.

John Little still lives in Montreal.

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.