John Lyman, 1886-1967

John Lyman was an influential
Modernist painter, critic and teacher

John Goodwin Lyman was born in the United States, but grew up in Montreal, the community he is most closely associated with.

After attending Montreal’s McGill University, John Lyman travelled in Europe where he became interested in art, especially the works of Henri Matisse. That led him to take lessons at several art French art schools, including the Academie Matisse.

John Lyman also met Canadian impressionist artist James Wilson Morrice and, in time, Lyman would be known as a modernist painter like Morrice.

John Lyman’s first attempts to exhibit his own paintings in Montreal – part of a group exhibit, then a solo show in 1913 – were met with negative reviews. He then returned to Europe where he lived, mainly in France, until he returned to Montreal in 1931.

Back in Canada, he held another solo exhibit and opened a short-lived Atelier art school, where he attempted to teach the ideas espoused in French art.

John Lyman turned to writing to further promote his views, writing a regular art column in the influential The Montrealer monthly publication while continuing to exhibit.

He was a proponent of Canadian artists taking an international view of art, looking outside the country for ideas. He was an opponent of the insular nature of the main movements of Canadian art, as represented by the Group of Seven and the Canadian Group of Painters.

John Lyman started the Contemporary Arts Society in 1939 and the group exhibited French and European art in Montreal, as well as the works of its members, most of whom were Montreal artists.

The group had a 10-year run, disbanding in 1948 over disagreements among some of its members, which included Paul-Emile Borduas, Stanley Cosgrove, Goodridge Roberts, Alfred Pellen and young artists such as Jean Paul Riopelle who were more interested in abstraction.

John Lyman was an art professor at McGill University for much of the 1950s. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts organized a retrospective exhibit of Lyman’s works in 1963, and the show was also mounted at the National Gallery of Canada.

The artist died in 1967.

The National Gallery of Canada holds a half dozen of his paintings and some 60 drawings, many of them portraits and figure studies. His works are held in many public and private collections.

Sources: National Gallery of Canada; Wikipedia.