December 2016
Katelyn McGirr
Exhibit Development Intern

Florence Carlyle
An Artist Biography

Summer Landscape, Florence Carlyle n.d.

“Summer Landscape” by Florence Carlyle n.d., RiverBrink Art Museum

Open to the public since November 12th of this year, the Canadian Treasures exhibition boasts works some of RiverBrink’s most well-known and influential Canadian artists. One of the five female Canadian artists included in the show is Florence Carlyle. Her oil painting Summer Landscape is the only work by Carlyle in Samuel E. Weir’s collection, and is on display until April 15th of 2017.

Why focus on this particular artist? In an era when women artists were associated primarily with crafts and decorative arts, the strength of Florence Carlyle’s talent and character established her place in an art world dominated by male artists.


Florence Carlyle, c. 1890. Bequeathed by Florence Johnston

Born in Galt, Ontario in 1864, her family relocated to Woodstock in 1871 when her father was appointed inspector of schools for Oxford County. It was in this community that young Carlyle’s artistic talents were first nurtured.

Carlyle’s first artistic triumph came in 1883, when Her Royal Highness Princess Louise purchased a piece by the 19 year old. Her painting of water lilies on ebonized wood was enthusiastically reported on by the Toronto Globe, the Toronto Daily Mail, and Woodstock’s Sentinel Review. While under the continued tutelage of Paul Peel, Carlyle was encouraged to continue her studies in France.

Accompanied on the journey by Peel’s father and sister, Carlyle embarked on a six year trip to France in 1890. While studying with such notable teachers as Adolphe-William Bouguereau, Auguste Joseph Delecluse, Jules Joseph Lefebvre, Tony Robert-Fleury, and Julius Rolshoven, Florence often took sketching trips to Barbizon, Normandy, Italy, and England (where she would later set up a studio). She soon became accomplished enough to have paintings exhibited at the 1893 and 1894 Paris Salons, an honour not often bestowed upon young artists. Her success reached across the Atlantic as well, with works she regularly shipped home establishing her presence in the Canadian art world.

She returned to Canada just before her 32nd birthday in 1896, where she supplemented her income by teaching in Woodstock and London, and working in commercial art.  In 1897 she was elected an Associate of the Royal Canadian Academy, and a member of the Ontario Society of Artists in 1900. It was upon her return to Canada that art historians see a shift in both colour and subject within Carlyle’s work. Works she completed in France or shortly after her return feature the tonal qualities, colours, and “peasant” subject matter typical of Barbizon painters. By 1897, her paintings began to lighten, likely from the influence of Impressionism.

After briefly relocating to New York in 1899, Carlyle returned to Canada where her exhibited works received countless accolades. This includes The Globe who wrote that Carlyle’s work “not only attracts, but rivets the attention of artists and of the great Philistine mob, the public.” Her painting The Tiff won a silver medal at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904, confirming her as one of the foremost Canadian artists.

Over the next five years, Carlyle would have several New York addresses. Exhibiting pieces, while continuing to paint commissioned portraits, landscapes, and still lifes to pay her living expenses, she soon began to be noticed in New York.  Carlyle was financially secure enough to travel to Italy and Spain for a year in 1906. Despite her travels, she appeared in several exhibits that same year.


Florence Carlyle, c. 1912. Bequest of Florence Johnston

In 1910, three of her paintings were picked as part of the 113 paintings chosen to represent Canada in the Festival of Empires. Although the festival was cancelled, her works were shown at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, England. It was during this exhibition that the Glasgow Herald Review described her as “one of Canada’s best lady artists.” That same year, her painting Grey and Gold was purchased by the National Gallery of Canada.

After the death of her parents and the sale of the family home in 1912, Carlyle travelled through Italy with her friend Juliet Hastings, with the pair eventually settling down in Yew Tree Cottage in East Sussex, England. When World War One began in 1914, Carlyle volunteered for war work, and regularly contributed paintings to support the war effort. In the spring of 1918 she was commissioned by the Canadian War Memorials Fund to paint a portrait of Lady Drummond, Assistant War Commissioner of the Red Cross. Carlyle continued to paint throughout the war years, sending some work back to Canada, but a shortage of art supplies and her gradually fading eye sight began to limit her production.

After the war Carlyle remained in England and concentrated more on her writing. With the financial help of Juliet’s father in 1921, Carlyle and Juliet went to Italy and France. She began to have regular bouts of illness, and died of stomach cancer on May 2nd, 1923 in Crowborough, England with Juliet and her sister Maude by her side. Her death was widely reported in Canada.

With a career spanning the length of four decades, it is evident that Florence Carlyle was a gifted and in demand artist. But why? As Roberta Grosland, Head of Collections at the Woodstock Art Gallery put it,“The broad appeal of Carlyle’s work, especially her genre paintings, was and still is based on a combination of her technical skills, such as her use of colour and exquisite handling of light, married with her uncanny ability to capture the ambiguous moment. The ambiguity both draws one into the painting and demands the viewers flesh out the narrative for themselves.”

Woodstock Art Gallery FLORENCE CARLYLE (1864-1923) Catalogue





July 2016
Annika Mazzarella
Curatorial Intern


My Internship at RiverBrink

I have never wanted a desk job, but as an intern I learned that a curator spends a lot of time behind a desk.  Many visitors of the RiverBrink Art Museum would comment that I must feel isolated and bored.  The opposite could not be truer.  The RiverBrink Art Museum staff is very friendly, helpful and inclusive; they keep things active and exciting.  Situated in the historic village of Queenston, Ontario, there is a peaceful atmosphere.  My favourite spot to conduct independent research was downstairs in the library.  Through this experience I learned the basics of curating, and with exclusive access to RiverBrink’s archives, vault, and museum database, I also have connected to my Canadian heritage.  RiverBrink was the perfect place for me to begin my curating career.  My internship was a thoroughly enjoyable, memorable and rewarding experience, from which I’m leaving feeling inspired to pursue my future ambitions.