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LETTERS HOME 1859-1906

William Blair Bruce.
Edited by Joan Murray.

Moonbeam (ON), Penumbra Press, c1982.
254pp, cloth, $29.95.
ISBN 0-920806-36-8.

Grades 10 and up.
Reviewed by Carrie Gardner.

Volume 11 Number 3.
1983 May.

Joan Murray noted the works of William Blair Bruce while preparing an exhibition of impressionist painting in Canada. He was referred to by a curator as a painter who never "got there." While in the Art Gallery of Hamilton, she noticed a box of his letters and borrowed them to read. The collection of his letters is edited in this book with Murray's introduction.

Bruce is familiar to us for his oil, The Phantom Hunter, of 1888. His training took place in Europe where he lived after he turned twenty-one. His letters give us a picture of the life of the Canadian artists who travelled abroad to receive training, most to return to Canada. We hear about his friends at the studios, his trips to sketch and a constant concern for money and the sale of his work so that he could achieve independence from his family. He ultimately achieved this when he married a wealthy Swedish woman and moved to live in Sweden where he died.

The enthusiasm of the young artist for his work is revealed in letter after letter. "The great picture (great as regards dimensions only) on which I am now painting at Barbizon, will astonish the natives, I have been strongly advised to stick to it for a whole year and expose it at the next Salon. Hawkins says it will be sure to excite much attention!"

The history of art is often seen as a chronological list of names or it is taught more appropriately in high schools as a thematic study. Biographies have a powerful effect for young students who are looking at the lives of people in their fields of study. These personal letters reveal a sensitive mind and the struggles of the artist in a period that is not often studied by students. It should be.

Carrie Gardner, Toronto, ON.
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