Florence's Stories

Oct. 2017 Post - Origins

This family photo taken at their home "Inverlynn" in 1870 includes all the family, Florence is the little head poking up bottom centre

We have to begin her story by connecting with her genealogy. Her father, George Gillivray ( the Mc was added to the family name in Canada). was dispatched to Canada in 1833 to find property to settle and farm by his father John. An expat Scot already living in Whitby, William Dow, encouraged him to come to Whitby. He informed George in a letter, that the area had excellent soil and a fine protected harbour for the export of produce. George found a fifty acre plot on the southwest corner of what is now Lake Ridge and Taunton Roads. They built their first home there, that they called "Cloverdale". The McGillivray's were from St. Fergus, Scotland. In 1835 John and wife Mary Gordon, and two of his sisters left Peterhead Scotland for Canada with other members of the St. Fergus community on the vessel "the Alert". Some of the others on that trip included the Brodie family and Tam Thomson (the Grandfather of the painter Tom Thomson). The Brodie's settled in Stouffville. Elizabeth Brodie and Tam Thomson were married in Whitby, with George Gillivray as their witness. They settled in Claremont, north of the McGillivray property. Both families where members of the only Presbyterian church that existed then in Pickering. They were well acquainted and likely socially engaged in the local Scottish Presbyterian community.

Nov. 2017 Post - Florence recalls

When asked later in life by an associate to recall her beginnings in art, Florence wrote, that at the age of six she had discovered the bluing soap used for the laundry and that it made a fine substance to create drawings on scrap paper. She may have done her drawings together with her older brothers and sisters, who would have had homework to do from their classes at the Whitby Grammar School. She would have also seen the paintings, hung around the home of the ornithological and maritime studies painted by her Grandfather the naturalist Charles Fothergill. This is how her interest in art began. She also wrote that this is how her love of the colours blue and green began and became dominant in her paintings throughout her career.

Nov. 18, 2017 - Origins Continued

In the ensuing years after George Mcgillivray had settled at the newly constructed home "Cloverdale" with his mother and father, he met and married Caroline Amelia Fothergill in 1846. Georges father financed the purchase of a farm and 200 acres for George and Caroline their marital home. It was adjacent to Cloverdale on the north west corner of Lake Ridge and Taunton Roads. They called their new home "Burnside" (these names are also place names that appear on old maps of St. Fergus Scotland). Florence's three eldest sisters were born at Burnside, Elizabeth, Mary, and Catherine. By 1850, due to his advanced age, John, George's father was moved to a new house in Whitby and George and Caroline and their daughters move back to Clovendales. George installed a farm manager in the smaller home at Burnside. The Mcgillivray's next nine children were born at Cloverdale John, Adelaide, George, Charles, Caroline, Theodore, Florence, William, and Donald. In 1870 with little room to move in the Cloverdale home, George purchased a larger home in Whitby, that they called Inverlynn. He again hired a farm manager to run Cloverdale. One last child was born at Inverlynn, Norman. This property would bring their real estate holdings to over 700 acres, this was a prosperous time for the McGillivray family.

Nov. 18, 2017 Post - Florence is Born

On March 1, 1864 Florence Helena McGillivray was born, the last girl of the six daughters born to George and Caroline McGillivray. We could imagine Florence as a toddler running around this pastoral farm in the fresh air and sunshine. She would have been watched closely by her parents, and cared for by her elder sisters. The McGillivray family were very socially interactive in their community, and deeply involved with the Presbyterian church. George a busy farmer and developer was active in Whitby's St. Andrews Society and in other charitable causes along with Caroline. Caroline's father Charles Fothergill, the naturalist was also a printer, painter, publicist and politician.

His artwork hung around the home. Arts and education were part of the foundation that all the children were exposed too. This was an inspirational and motivating environment for Florence during her formative years.

Dec. 10, 2017 Post -Education

  Precise attendance records do not exist for Florence McGillivray's early education. Florence first attended the Whitby Grammar School then the Whitby Collegiate, following her brothers and sisters. In that time these schools had a very good reputation for being outstanding educational institutions. Children came to these schools from all over Ontario because of their outstanding reputation. Florence's sister Catherine met her husband David Maclaren at the school, he was from Ottawa. Tom Thomson's father, John from Claremont, also attended the Whitby schools and may have boarded with the McGillivray's at Inverlynn. Florence who had already shown an interest in art as a child, took painting classes at the school under two different teachers, They were originally from England and instructed in the classic style of the English school. Florence passed on what she learned from these art classes to her fellow students. The family had to pay extra for Florence's art courses and Florence charged some of her schoolmates 25 cents per term to share her lessons.

Florence by 1881, had won an award for her paintings which she had entered in the Bowmanville Fall Fair. She continued to enter her paintings in the local fairs and the proceeds from these wins helped her to afford additional painting lessons.


Jan.25, 2018 Post - Art School

The Arcade Building in Toronto a gathering place for artists and art schools

Encouraged by her success in local fairs and supported by her family. Florence was urged by her mother to consider art school in Toronto. She enrolled in the Toronto Art School and the Central Ontario School of Art under William Cruikshank. This occurred in the 1880's (again no precise records of attendance exist), and it is believed that these schools were housed in the new Arcade Building on Yonge Street in Toronto. The records of the Central Ontario School of Art, which later became The Ontario College of Art and Design, start after 1910. The Arcade Building was an innovative indoor shopping mall within a three storey building with an open courtyard. It became a hub for art and business education, with studios on the upper floors, a place where young artists mingled. Florence made acquaintances  with many of her artist contemporaries while she was there. Artists like Laura Muntz and Marion Long were there, as well as others (Laura had a studio there and Marion attended classes and was a part of the Toronto Art Students League which was later formed in the Arcade Building. The schools taught in the classic English and Dutch Schools of art. Marion Long  became a life long friend to Florence and in the thirties she painted a beautiful portrait of Florence for posterity.

March 25, 2018 Post - Painted China

Another Institution was born in the Arcade building during that era. It was Mrs. Westacott's Art School. In the mid 1880's after Mary E. Dignam was made President it became The Women's Art Association of Canada. This venerable women's institution had several homes before landing permanently on Prince Arthur Avenue in Toronto where it thrives today. Mary E. Dignam who ran it for many years, challenged her pupils to create arts and crafts, paintings, and painted china with the goals of sales and self sufficiency. Florence understood this message and joined the association early on, about 1886. She explored the art of painting on china as well as her drawing and painting over the next several years. Florence offered classes in drawing, painting and painting on china to the residents of Whitby after 1886 in the Women's Temperance Free Reading Room at the Oddfellows Building on Brock Street in Whitby. Later in the 1898 she continued  her study in ceramics at the studio of Marshal Fry in New York. She completed many ceramic works into the 1920's and creating dishes, cups, wash sets and many beautiful items. Many of these wares can be found in collections today

May 10,2018  Post - Mentors

In the next phase of her artistic training Florence McGillivray with great insight and thoughts of her future, arranged private lessens from some of the most notable personalities in the growing Canadian art centre in Toronto.

The first, longest and most influential of these artists was Lucius R. O'Brien, then president of  the Ontario Society of Artists and later president of the Royal Canadian Academy, and one of Canada's leading landscape artists. O'Brien worked in watercolour and oils.  Her tenure with him lasted from 1890 to 1898 and they became close friends.

Next was F.M. Bell-Smith known for his large canvasses and one of the commissioned CPR artists who traveled the country to produce the vistas of this great land for promotion of travel on the new railroads. 

When her family asked her to produce family portraits of her parents, grandparents, and others in the family, Florence took lessons from J.W.L. Forster, considered Canada's premiere portraitist. Finally F. McGillivray Knowles ( no relation) who was well known in Toronto's art scene became one of her teachers.  He later hired her as assistant art instructor at Ontario Ladies College. 

All of these men taught the classic techniques of the English and Dutch schools and were involved in the exhibitions and associations in Toronto during that era. 

Florence brilliantly networked through these connections and met other artists whom she associated with going forward. This along with the sisterhood of artists  at the Women's Art Association of Canada, led to her acquaintance with artists such as Laura Muntz Lyall and Marion Long. 

In 1898 she travelled to New York and studied ceramics and painting with Marshall Fry at his Long Island studio. In the fall of 1898 she invited Lucius O'Brien to Inverlynn and they captured the fields and streams around her home in wonderful watercolour paintings. O'Brien died in 1899 and his last paintings are of the Whitby area.

July 4, 2018 Post -Florence The Teacher

While Florence was still enrolled as a student in the Whitby Grammar school and collegiate her parents had paid extra to  have her attend art classes from instructors like Mr. Shrapnell and others from England who came to the school. These additional classes cost between 5 and 10 dollars per term. In her astute way she then offered to teach other students what she had learned  from the sessions for 25 cents each.

After her further study in Toronto by 1886 it was reported in the Whitby Chronical that Florence had begun teaching residents of Whitby art classes which included drawing and painting and painting on china. She held annual classes at the Womens Temperance Free Reading Room in the Oddfellows building on Brock Street in Whitby.

Sometime in the 1890's Florence was brought in to Pickering College to teach art classes there for their students. This continued until the college was ravaged by fire in 1905. When the college is rebuilt in Newmarket in 1909 the promotional material listed Florence McGillivray as Directress of the Art Program. By 1910 Florence hired one of her former students Norma Wright from Ontario Ladies College to run the art program, and Florence remained affiliated with the collage as a critic for many years.

Prior to that about 1904 Florence was hired by one of her mentors Farquhar McGillivray Knowles to become assistant art Instructor at Ontario Ladies College she worked there teaching art to the students until 1912 when she departed on her European tour but she remained affiliated with OLC for the rest of her life.

She was an accomplished educator and developed many enduring friendships with several instructors from the colleges and also life long friendships with many of her gifted art students. These friendships and associations lead to invitations to visit in the future when Florence traveled across North America and to the  Caribbean.

July 18, 2018 Post - Review at the close of the 19th Century

As we look back on the events that effected Florence McGillivray's early life it is obvious to me that she was a clear thinking, entrepanurial women and a strategic thinker. She enjoyed the support of her family and was influenced by their engagement in society. Florence studied art intently and sought out great Canadian artists to increase her artistic knowledge. She was socially active and an effective net worker who connected with those in the art scene in Canada, including influential and affluent women who were activists in that era.

We see this in her associations with the members of the Women's Art Association Of Canada (W.A.A.C.) including its President Mary E. Dignam  and others who championed women's issues of the day like Lady Aberdeen its patron and wife of the Governor General. She likely associated with other members of the W.A.A.C. like Phoebe Watson (sister of Homer Watson who was a comtempoary of her mentor Lucius O'Brien). Phoebe was known for her great ceramic works at the W.A.A.C. and was one of the selected members to create the State Dinner Service for Rideau Hall.  This service was supposed to be paid for by the government by it is now part of Haddo House in Aberdeenshire by way of Lady Aberdeenshire. Artists of the W.A.A.C. helped and supported each other to gain exposure and create their work. Surely artists like Laura Muntz  a member who also had a studio in the Arcade Building  along with Florence's instructor William Cruikshank  from the Ontario College of Art would have been in her circle of acquaintances. The multitude of women and men in Toronto's art world, the likes of Marion Long and Fred Brigden would become her lifelong friends.

It was clear by her selection of influential mentors, that Florence was aware of what was going on in Canadian and International art. She benefitted from these connections as well as the networking stemming from business, fraternal and social connections of her successful brothers and sisters.

One of the dramatic events that altered her life was the death of her father in 1894. Not only was his estate large but he had challenged his sons to continue to manage the prosperous farm operations for the benefit of all the family. This large estate was a benefit to Florence, but she did not sit on her gains or fritter away her share, rather she embarked on a multi faceted career as an educator, and an artist, while caring for a sister and her elderly mother. Florence still managed to be quite prolific producing her art in this time.

There appears to be an undocumented trip to England in the mid 1890's after her fathers death? Perhaps with family or with others artists, she painted several early landscapes of English cottages, and perhaps a couple of French scenes from Moret  ( Laura Muntz was visiting Moret in that time also, but these scenes may be from a later visit). Most of these early paintings are undated and not signed ( very typical of her early works)

Evidence of this trip occurring can not be confirmed, but the paintings do exist. Perhaps it was a summer trip with family to celebrate their fathers life, which may have included a trip to Scotland the ancestral home.

As the century drew to a close Florence McGillivray had given herself a solid footing in the art world. She was a self sufficient woman with a career as an educator and a talent to produce marvellous works of art using what she had learned but creating her own individual style with a sensitive and delicate use of oils and watercolours.


Aug. 24, 2018 Post - A New Era

A painted view of Whitby from on top of Ontario Ladies College

As the new century opened we would have found Florence teaching art to the students at Pickering College and before long she would become Assistant Art Instructor at Ontario Ladies College, holding both positions simultaneously. These prestigious institutions brought in students from all over North America. In spite of her busy careers at the schools she found the time to explore further afield than the Whitby area to paint. She like her contemporary Henrietta Mabel May of Montreal would begin to explore the wilderness areas of Ontario and Quebec for landscapes that appealed to her. This was long before the men of the Algonquin school began to explore the Canadian Wilderness and as the Group of Seven defined a Canadian Art movement. ( From Maria Tippet in her book "By A Lady").

Florence before she became a member exhibited her paintings at the Ontario Society of Artists at their exhibitions in 1901, 1902, and 1903. As time progressed her appearance in the annual exhibitions at O.S.A., the Royal Canadian Academy, the Montreal Artists Association and many other prestigious institutions became commonplace. In addition to becoming a member of O.S.A. and R.C.A. , she was a member of the Women's Art Association of Canada, the New York Society of Painters and Sculptors, the Heliconian Club and the International Artists Union.

Sept. 28,2018 Post - Travels

When Florence's eldest sister Elizabeth, who was married to Dr. Michael Hillary died in Jamaica in 1877 with her newborn, both from yellow fever. Dr. Hillary abandoned his already existing children in Jamaica. When the McGillivray's got wind of this they decided to bring the rest of the Hillary grandchildren back to Inverlynn to be raised there. It can't be substantiated how they were brought back, but Eileen, Michael, and Kathleen Hillary were all brought back to Whitby and raised there, Whether George McGillivray went or if he sent elder daughters Mary and Adelaide to get them is unsure. there are even stories, unconfirmed,that Florence may have gone with her sisters to bring the children back to Canada?

As time passed and her interest in art developed, Florence did travel around Ontario and Quebec  to visit her sisters in Gatineau and Ottawa where they lived with there husbands. We can see from her paintings she was exploring the wilds of these regions for landscapes in the 1890s.

Another unconfirmed story of Florence's travels that we suspect might be true because of the early paintings found of country scenes and cottages in England, and because of some family lore, it leads us to believe perhaps in 1894 after her father George's death she and some other family members may have traveled to Scotland and England, but again other than the paintings existence we can't confirm this.

The first record  found that confirms more distant trips is from the Pickering News June 24,1904 page 8 " Miss McGillivray of Whitby who has just returned from a trip though Jamaica, entertained some of the Jamaican students of Pickering College at her home recently." We have found no paintings that are dated to this trip, but wonder if this could have sparked her interest in later years to travel and paint in the Caribbean. 

In the Fall of 1905 the "Vox Collegii" the Ontario Ladies College quarterly magazine put out by students reported "Miss McGillivray has just returned from a girls school in Solera Switzerland where she was maintained this past summer. We look forward to her art classes this semester."

Again we find no evidence of dated paintings, or of subjects of paintings from this area. There are works from this region but they are from her European tour, 1912 -1914..

Nov. 5, 2018 Post - Life Goes On

In the first decade of the new century tragedy befalls the McGillivray clan several times. Florence already busy teaching art at two colleges, struggling to find time to paint the landscapes she loves to paint, she does not exhibit any paintings for the next few years at the O.S.A. shows.

In 1904 her brother William dies, he was a doctor who moved to Pipestone, Minnesota to join his brother George, who had a veterinary practice there. William cut his hand in a surgery he performed and contracted septicemia which caused his untimely death.

In 1906 Florence's eldest brother John Alexander was admitted to the Guelph Sanatorium diagnosed with extreme melincolia. He was a captain of industry,  well known in agricultural and political circles. His depression  may have come from his extensive work load, work on boards of major companies, his numerous farms and business interests and his  high rank in fraternal organizations. He remained in the institution until his death in 1911.

This was also the year Florence's second eldest sister Mary ( Elizabeth the eldest had died in 1877).  Mary had been living with Florence and her mother at the home they shared on Byron St. in Whitby,  Florence had her first home studio where she showed and sold her works and painted china, in this home,

Two years prior to the death of her brother and sister in 1911 her mother had passed in 1909, Florence, mother, and sister Mary had been living in the Byron St. home since 1898 when another sister Catherine Amelia and her husband David Maclaren had purchased the McGillivray ancestral home Inverlynn as there summer home from there fathers estate. Florence in 1909 after her mothers death took a leave of absence from Ontario Ladies College and was temporarily replaced as instructor by Bertha May Ingle.

Earlier  in that decade 1905 Pickering College had burned to the ground ending her art  instruction there. When it was reopened after being rebuilt in Newmarket in 1909 Florence was at the opening and returns as Directoriss of the art department a position she holds for many years even after she travels more in later years in pursuit of her art.


Jan. 5, 2019 Post Travels

A Sketch by Florence McGillivray of the Blue Door Studio, in St. Ives where the artist community met.

After Florence's mother passed away in 1909 she took a leave of absence  from Ontario Ladies College. In the summer of 1910 she travelled to England to visit the Cornwall  coast, perhaps drawn by other Canadian artists who had visited the area, or to connect with the developing artistic community becoming prominent in St. Ives.

She explored the shores, wth their raging seas, picturesque cliffs, and tranquil harbours with boats peacefully resting at their moorings.  These she depicted on canvas. Florence captured, in both watercolours and oils, the street scenes and communities along the coastline.  She was engaged by all the maritime  vistas she came across, perhaps remembering her Grandfather's maritime works which hung on the walls of Inverlynn.

Her work from that summer was prolific and competent and she began to develop her own particular approach to these seascapes, a sign of an artist becoming comfortable with her craft.

aFlorence returned in the fall to teaching art at Ontario Ladies College (OLC), now as Art Directress  of the New Pickering College that had been re-built in Newmarket. She facilitated the hiring of her former OLC student Norma Wright as the school's art Instructor. Norma tught there for a couple of years, and eventually replaced Florence as art instructor at Ontario Ladies College until her marriage to Charles Cotter in the twenties. They moved to Jamaica where they lived out their lives. You can see an influence by McGillivray on the artwork of Norma Wright Cotter and they remained friends for their entire lives.

Feb. 1, 2019 Post An Artist Reborn

With the passing of her sister Mary  in 1911 and her mother a couple of years earlier, Florence was released from the caregiving responsibilities she had obligated herself with over the past years. She was now alone in the Byron Street home and for the first time in her life she was free to pursue her own desires, and develop her artistic career further. She was still involved with the colleges and would continue those relationships for many years, but her seniority by this time would allow her flexibility to release herself from daily teaching responsibilities. Florence's brother, Dr. Charles, was a long time board member of Ontario Ladies College and with his help she set up her Byron Street home as a recital hall for students of the college, where they could receive music lessons and give performances. Over the course of the next year Florence wrapped up her affairs, helped find art teachers to replace her teaching role, and planned a journey of artistic enlightenment that would soon take her to the great artistic capitals of Europe. This would be a chance for her to study further, visit galleries, and mingle with and learn from international artists. Having completed all of the logistical tasks required at the colleges and the planing required to embark on this extended journey of artistic self discovery, Florence left on her trip in the fall of 1912. The Vox Collegii Magazine from Ontario Ladies College reported on Miss McGillivray's exciting departure and wished her a sincere "Bon Voyage", The impact of this trip would be profound on Florence's artwork, and would change her place in Canadian art history.

March 23, 2019 Post The Journey Unfolds

Florence's travels started with a visit to her fathers ancestral homeland Scotland. McGillivray explores the windswept Isle of Skye with its craggy cliffs and meandering rivers. She paints several watercolours of the area in sombre colours showing its misty shores and rocky streams. There are no paintings of St.Fergus in Aberdineshire where the McGillivrays came from in the north of Scotland, and we do not know if she went there. She again visits Cornwall, likely stoping in St. Ives, perhaps visiting acquaintances or the blue door studio that she recently visited in 1910. Precisely where she began her journey in France is hard to determine and I think she may have again traveled by boat through the Channel Islands first. There is a curious painting from 1912 she does of a shop on an unknown street,  signed and dated with no title that its owners call their Moroccan McGillivray. In it there is curious man in a black cape with a cane and a women in a white dress in front of the shop. When we compare it to a painting by J.W, Morrice the ex Pat Canadian who was living in Paris at the time, his painting also from 1912 is called Bazaar Tangiers, it has a similar shop with almost identical characters, could they have been there at the same time sketching?

We know eventually McGillivray connects with Henri Matisse and his friend J.W. Morrice when she gets to Paris, and may have traveled with them to Brittany and Saint Malo, but these two paintings cause food for thought. 

( J.W. Morrice and Florence's brother, Theodore the lawyer and later Judge studied law at Osgood Hall in Toronto together in the 1880s before Morrice gave up law for an art career). Would it be possible that Theodore the consummate networker gave Florence a letter of introduction to Morrice to take with her on her trip? There is no question that McGillivray was affected by Morrice's work, and in later years their paths may cross again. This is how McGillivray's artistic journey of self-discovery began, we'll travel through France on the next Post.

May 24,2019 Post France

In  1913 after visiting in the fall of 1912 in the British Isles and perhaps in North Africa she travels to Paris.

After her arrival in Paris she enrolls in classes at the Gand Chaumiere Studio whose directors Martha Settler and Alice Dannenberg promote a more free spirited approach to training as apposed  to the formal training McGillivray received from her Canadian mentors. She studied at the studio under Lucian Simon and Emile Rene Menard. Shortly after her arrival in Paris she sold her first painting. Florence's painting "Contentment" ( now in the AGO permanent collection) is shown in Paris in 1913 at the Society Nationale Des Beaux Arts exhibition, and it was reported McGillivray was made president of the International Artists Union in Paris.

She makes a connection with Henri Matisse, who is at that time associating with Canadian artist J.W. Mortice. It is suspected that she may have traveled with them to Brittany and St. Malo, as she and they painted in these locations at that time. In some of her works from that time she experiments in many styles, some of which show the influence of Fauvism a la Matisse, and Post Impressionism some what like Mortice.

In startling contrast the heavy palette knife style of the work of Russian painter Frederick Fiebig made a huge impression on her, he was also in Paris at that time. She must have came in contact with him, this is very evident when his and her works are compared from that time in paintings of the same subjects. Florence became acquainted with many artists and what was going on in Paris in that era.

Florence went on to sketch and paint in many locations throughout France on her own and with other artists. Some of the places she visited were Luynes, Tours, Moret Sur Loine, Menton, Arno, Brittany, and St. Malo as well as other locations. This period of her work is more free spirited as she explores her inner self in many different styles and techniques. Her journeys will continue in Europe>

July 12, 2019 Post Italy

Florence continues her European exploration moving north through Italy in  1913/14 she visits the galleries and museums enroute that offer her the finest examples  of historic and contemporary art. Her drawings, sketches and paintings show her stopping in Stromboli,Livorno,Verona and spending the most of her time in Venice. She is accompanied by her friend Mrs. McCrimmon from the W.A.A.C and her two daughterss Helen and Margaret on the later part of her Italian trip. There are two oils of a woman sitting at a table knitting on the terrace of a villa that may be of Mrs. McCrimmon, and there are two portraits of young girls in the AGO collection of Helen and Margaret McCrimmon that could have been painted when  they were all in Italy together. This time in Venice may well have been one of the places where Florence encountered Russian artist Frederic Fiebig. When we examine both artists pantings of the Ponte Vecchio bridge, we find that these palette knife works  are remarkably similar in style and technique. Florence continues to experiment with the palette knife approach on other works and in the Perce Rock series she creates in later years. McGillivray absorbs many new Ideas in her works as she travels. The journey continues through the Italian and Swiss alps, until she is "trapped behind enemy lines" in her own words at the outbreak of the Great war. She returns safely to Canada via Paris, England and Ireland, painting all the way. Once she arrives in Canada in the fall of 1914, she settles in to her Byron Street studio in Whitby. She then creates the pine grove series ( of her beloved grove beside her ancestral home Inverlynn), that culminates in the modernist masterpiece "Afterglow" which was purchased by the National Gallery after its  showing at the Ontario Society of Artists exhibition in the fall of 1914. This work impressed National Gallery curator Eric Brown and others like Tom Thomson and some of his friends that would in later  years form the Group of Seven.


December 9,2019 Post Back in Canada

The Pine Grove painting third in the series that leads to the Modernist Masterpiece "Afterglow"

After reacquainting with her friends in the Toronto art scene and sharing her European experiences with them the discussions of what was going on in France was of great interest in the Canadian art world. Her family friend Tom Thomson was in the process of changing from a graphic artist to an oil painter and was being mentored by Arthur Lismer A. Y.Jackson, Dr. MaCallum and Laren Harris. McCallum and Harris who had built the studio building in Toronto helped Thomson by setting him up in the shack behind the studio building as his winter home and studio at a very low rent he could afford.

According to Blodwin Davies the first person to do extensive research on Tom Thomson's life after his death, she talked to witnesses's and friends who related how interested Tom was about Florences experiences and the modernist, post impressionist and fauvist concepts she came across in Europe. He felt Florence was one of the best and appreciated her knowledge and they would be affected by each others work as time passed. Her mentoring of him helped move him into the next phase of his work. In the next few years Florence would visit Tom in the winters when he was at his shack and they would discuss art and techniques together and with other artists who were living and socializing at the studio building. They're are a number of references to this in Davies research notes.

McGillivray back home again in her Byron Street studio catches up with friends and family and begins to contemplate what subjects she will pursue with her newly found confidence and exploratory approaches in her art, first she visits local areas in southern Ontario to apply some of her modernist thoughts. One remarkable example of her new work is the painting "Winter at Rosebank" at the mouth of the Rouge River on Lake Ontario, which is part of the AGH permanent collection today. Her works takes on a new vitality, she is entering a new prolific period and decides exploration of Canada from coast to coast should be a priority. she begins to plan for these new excursions. She attends many of the OSA and Academy exhibitions, and the National Gallery continues to support her work.

Although it is true that Thomson and McGillivray had a mutual respect for each others work, and their families were familiar from their origins in Scotland, and that they attended the same Presbyterian church in Canada and that Florence's father George was the witness to Tam Thomson's wedding to Elizabeth Brodie in Whitby (Toms Grandfather), there is no empirical evidence that the two artists ever had a romantic relationship. Florence was a mentor. teacher and family friend to Tom Thomson.

There are even some scholars who still insist today that Florence visited and painted together in Algonquin park in the spring of 1917 with Tom Thomson, this is part of the many myths about Tom Thomson by those writers who have propagated these myths by using unsighted research. In fact McGillivray's travels can be traced trough her travel records and dates of paintings from March to August of 1917, putting her no where near the park.

For anyone who wants to explore her life and her influence on Tom Thomson, some members of the Group of Seven and the Canadian Modernist Movement the evidence is clear. We'll explore her travels in Canada as the posts continue.

January 14, 2020 Post Florence's Algonquin

Florence McGillivray was the most traveled Canadian women artist of her era. Her destinations included Europe, North America and the Caribbean, the one place other than the Gatineau Valley that was one of her favourite destinations was the Atlantic region of Canada. It became her Algonquin Park, and there are many spectacular paintings from this region in the body of her work. Many plein air sketches and some fine Oils she created in her Ottawa Studio, including the lovely view of St. Anthony's harbour that resides in the permanent collection of the National Gallery.

Her first stop in Newfoundland was in the summer of 1910, she stopped there either on her way or on return from that summer trip, where most of her time was spent in Cornwall, England. I suspect she also may have stopped again on the east coast in the fall of 1912 at the beginning of her extended European tour that began that fall.

In 1917 her niece Helen (who would later become on a number of occasions Florence's travel companion and protégée), Helen got involved in a charitable effort to raise funds and supplies for the Grenfell Mission Hospital in St.Anthony, NFLD. Helen was the daughter of Florence's sister Jennie and her husband Dr. J. T. Fortheingrham, they lived in Toronto on Wellesley Street where Florence lived and stayed while studying and socializing in Toronto. Dr. Fotheringham was acquainted with Dr. Grenfell's work in bringing medicine to the people of Newfoundland.

By 1918 Florence and Helen traveled to St. Anthony's to help at the Mission and to paint. Their travel documents listed them as missionaries on that trip. There is a story of how Florence with the help of others painted floral designs on the headboards of the beds in the children's ward and Helen furnished little dollies  to help brighten up the ward for the young patients. Although unconfirmed they may have returned again the next year together and at the end of that trip Florence extended her trip into Connecticut and Maine, while Helen returned to Toronto.

In that time period, Florence also visited Labrador to paint the icebergs and arctic scenes in some spectacular views. This was several years before Lauren Harris and A.Y. Jackson did their exploration of the Arctic.

Florence visited Labrador, St.Anthony, Twillingate, Cornerbronk, Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, Grand Manan, Gaspe, Perce and many other Atlantic region locations.

In the twenties Florence worked up a number of larger oils  from her new Ottawa studio. The series of paintings from Perce are to my mind some of her most magnificent works and they show the the influence of her European experience.

More on the Ottawa studio in future Posts.

Feb. 13, 2020 Post The Ottawa Studio

Florences Sister Catherine Amelia who had married David Maclaren who was a member of the Maclaren lumber concern of the Ottawa valley, they had a home in Wakefield and later moved to Ottawa. Catherine and David had also bought Inverlynn the Mcgillivray ancestral home in Whitby from the estate of George McGillivray's estate in 1898.

David Maclaren died in 1916 and some time after in 1917 or 18 Catherine invited Florence to come live with her in Ottawa, Florence of course still had her Byron Street home in Whitby and would still maintain it for a couple of years she still had family and business interests in Whitby and that home was still close Toronto and her friends and the art scene there.

As time passed Florence would spend more time in Ottawa, where they eventually created a studio in her sisters carriage house attached to her Frank Street home, Florence eventually sold the Whitby house.

The Carriage House Studio became a place where Florence's work exploded with colour and texture, she became very prolific there experimenting with many of the techniques that had influenced her on her European tour. Her marvellous works were recognized more than ever before and at this point she is at the peek of her career and is recognized and shown in all the Canadian art centres.

In Ottawa she joins the Studio club where artist's like David Milne, Frank Hennessy, Yukado Shikado and others are working. She with the others form their own group known as the Group of Eight with funding help from the Royal Academy.

There is a wonderful oil by McGillivray done in later years called  "A Snow Locked Door" that depicts her studio, that remains in the hands of a Maclaren descendant. Florence revisits  many of her smaller sketches from the past to create many larger oils from Europe, Gatineau, and as time passes her newly discovered  subject the Caribbean.

Her works from the Ottawa Carriage House studio show a mature artist, following her creative spirit, expressing herself, exploring different techniques and may be some of the best pieces of the body of her work, The European retrospectives, the Perce Rock Series, and her explorations of North America and her travels in the British West Indies show an artist in the fullness of her artistic expression.

April 10, 2020 Post A Mature Artist

Another curiosity occurs in 1921, it is my contention  with out having any empirical  evidence that the McGillivray family and the Morrice family would have known each other, as they were both affluent Presbyterian Scottish families. As mentioned in a previous story her brother Theodore and James Wilson Morrice had gone to law school in Toronto at the same time. Her sister Catherine had also married into the Maclaren family, lumber barons of the Gatineau valley and the Morrice family  were prominent in Montreal

business, and these families would have known of each  other in social and business circles.

Florence would have known of J.W. as he was one of the few noted Canadian artist's in that time and he had an influence on her work. One could imagine their paths might have crossed when he returned from Europe to Montreal, to visit hie parents in Montreal's he regularly did over the years, perhaps at one of the Montreal art shows.

What is curious is that he was in Montreal in the early winter of 1921, then we see in the spring of 1921 both McGillivray and Morrice are painting in Trinidad that spring. This was the beginning of Florence's many trips to the Caribbean in the twenties. If we examine the works of McGillivray to Morrice we can see her borrowing some of the dabs of paint and the techniques he used as she was an admirer of his work. (I continue to search for clues)

Florence was a free spirit, and experimented with many techniques over the years, from her early mentors like O'Brian and Bell Smith and the shared admiration between Thomson and herself, and the influences she came to know in Europe like Matesse, Morrice, and Fiebig. She was agile and competent enough to incorporate the techniques of these great artists without copying exactly, but using them to enhance her modernist approach and her individual style as she saw fit in interpreting the subjects she sought to depict.

Mcgillivray had regularly been showing her works from her studios and local galleries and at the OSA and ARCA shows until now but in the twenties her work was impressive and gained more acclaim. Her work goes to the Great Empire Exhibition held in London at Wembley ( one of only a few Canadian women asked to the show) and she is regularly shown at the exhibitions in Montreal by the Montreal Artists Association where the Beaver Hall group is formed. There is no question that in the twenties her prosperity and notoriety are at their pinnacle. She continues to travel throughout North America, and the West Indies with yet a couple more trips to Europe in this era.