HAMMOND, John : 1843 - 1939

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He had a tough childhood, already working at age 9 in a factory polishing marble. A jack-of-all-trades during his teens, he enlisted in the army in 1866. After his demobilization, he left for London, England, then for New Zealand where he became a gold digger for three years. When he came back to Canada, he worked as a railroad worker in Western Canada. The paintings and drawings he executed at the time helped him to produce murals commissioned by C.P.R. Then he came back to Montreal the following year where he colorized the photographs taken in black and white in order to make them real paintings.

Lives and Works of the Canadian Artist

John Hammond’s work has been neglected in the literature on Canadian art history but in his own time he was well loved and supported by the public, and respected and recognized by his own fellow-artists. Throughout an active career that spanned nearly seventy of his ninety-six years, Hammond was deeply involved with Canada’s artistic activities and aims.

The problems which faced Canada’s late-nineteenth century artists were not simple: there was a desperate lack of art schools and financical support for the arts, so that many painters went to Europe to study. When they returned they were subjected to diverse pressures. On the one hand the public, with its painfully conservative tastes, demande European styles; on the other, the art critics exhorted, scolded and persuaded Canada’s artists to formulate a “national style”. Only a few critics realized that a national style involved centuries of evolution. Representative of this era, John Hammond was brought up in Montreal where life styles still clung tenaciously to the Old World; later he spent several seasons in Europe where he absorbed past and current artistic styles and conventions.

John Hammond was a painter of the landscape, seascape and the mountains. He did not restrict himself to purely Canadian subjects; many of his works portray scenes from Europe, the Eastern United Sates, China and Japan. But his name is most readily associated with two Canadian gerographical areas: the New Brunswick coast and the Rocky Mountains. The activities which he undertook in these two locales are reflective of important events in Canada’s art history.

Hammond settled in New Brunswick in the 1880’s where he became the principal of the new Owens Art School in Saint John; in 1894 the School moved to Sackville, N.B., where it received recognition as one of the most important art educational centres in Eastern Canada. The coasts of the Bay of Fundy, from Sackville to Saint John, provided Hammond with innumerable subjects, and he became well known as a marine artist. His sea paintings have erroneously been labelled as entirely derivative of J.M.W Turner (1775-1851) and other contemporary English and Dutch marine artists, but J. Russell Harper in Painting in Canada (1966) was the first to recognize that Hammond’s aesthetic was far closer to that of James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), the expatriot American artist with whom he studied briefly in Dordrecht. The entire canvas of a typical Hammond sea picture consists of a plane of low-toned, soft monochrome; against this background Hammond introduces the minimal pictorial elements with a few decisive brunshstrokes of darker colour. Hammond’s monochromes were not achieved by the use of one tone; rather, he almost embroidered the canvas with daubs of pinks, pale blues, greens, golds and yellows which, at close range, make the picture alive with colour and, at a viewing distance, pull together to form a poetic composition of colour and, surprisingly, strongly realistic images which capture the strange hues, tecture and expanse of the Bay of Fundy fogs.

Late in 1880’s Hammond met his most important patron, Sir William Van Horne (1843-1915), the President of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Van Horne conceived of a promotional campaign in which he would send some of Canada’s best artists to paint the scenery along the railway routes. These paintings were then hund in hotels, stations and offices, rather like the moderne travel poster. From 1891 to 1906 Hammond painted intermittently for the C.P.R., his commissions taking im as far as China and Japan when the steamship tours to the Orient were initiated. It was an important era for Canada, and Hammond’s C.P.R paintings represent a unique artistic and historic period in Canadian art. “The Three Sisters” (Glenbow-Alberta Institute, Calgary) is an example of his Rocky Mountain paintings. It typifies the artist’s efforts to overwhelm the viewer with the grandeur and beauty of the mountains. It is a successful, deliberate, large-format advertisement, but compared to it, certain preliminary spontaneous. The paint is applied vigorously, in large, elemental streaks of colour which seem more responsive to the massive rawness of the mountains.

Hammond was above all a sea and mountain painter, but he was alson known for his pastoral landscapes. “Cold-stream Ranch” (Glenbow-Alberta Institute), depicting the homestead of Lord and Lady Aberdeen in British Columbia, demonstrates a characteristic feature of all Hammond’s paintings: a tremendous sense of space and depth, of light and atmosphere. Hammond has stepped back from the scene to take a panorama wiew, thus achieving in his paintings an element that was special to the Canadian landscape: vastness of land and sky.

Hammond’s involvement with the C.P.R. in the opening of the West, and with the Owens Art School at a time when art education was struggling for recognition, are evidence enough that he was an important artistic, art-historical and historical personality, and very much a representative figure of his era. He was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and participated regularly in the Academy’s annual and international exhibitions.

The public’s taste in Canada at the turn of the century has generally been acknowledged as undiscerning. Thus, through unfortunate association, Hammond’s work, which originally found os much favor with the public, has more recently been dismissed as uninspired. Hammond did not paint ot suit the public, but rather continued in his own way with a dedication, discipline and sincerity which grew out of his deeply religious life. Because of his poetic, gentle temperament his paintings possessed, on a superficial level, the same qualities which appealed so much to the sentimentalism of popular taste. A closer study of Hammond’s work reveals him to be a much more prominent figure of his artistic generation (particularly as a Maritime and Rocky Mountain painter) than has hitherto been acknowledged.



Born in Montreal to Robert and Elizabeth (née Young) Hammond


Began working in father’s marble-cutting and crafting business.


Enlisted with his brother Henry in the “Ladies Pets”. Regiment sent to quell a rumoured (but unmaterialized) Fenian raid. In the spring sailed with Henry to England; spent three weeks touring London, then sailed for New Zealand. Spent almost three years in New Zealand working in the gold fields.


Returned to Canada via the Pacific.


Listed regularly on the payroll of Notman photographers, Montreal, Except for an absence of sixteen months between July 1876 and December 1877


Married Miss Ackers (d. January 1900).


Volunteered as artist and assistant to Notman photographer Benjamin Baltzly for the Canadian Government Transcontinental Railway Survey to the Rocky Mountains. The expedition lasted one year and Hammond’s party was the only one of three to reach its objective, Yellowhead Pass. The results of his and Baltzly’s work were 36 eight-by-ten views and 84 stereoscopic views.


23 December: elected to Ontario Society of Artists.


3 November: resigned from O.S.A.


Left Montreal on an extended sketching and painting tour of Eastern United States and Canada en route to Saint John, New Brunswick, where Hammond settled. Listed in city directories as artist and/or photographer in Saint John City Directory, 1879-84.


Listed as Manager with the Saint John branch of W. & J. Notman, Photographic firm.


Appointed Principal of the Owens Art School, Saint John, N.B. Three of Hammond’s paintings were entered in the visitor section of the Royal Canadian Academy exhibition held in Saint John.


Spent eighteen months in Europe.


Studied figure and portrait painting briefly at the École des Beaux Arts, Paris. Spent half the summer painting at Barbizon, France with François Millet (fils). Painted briefly with James McNeil Whistler at Dordrecht, Holland.


Purchased paintings and plaster casts for the Owens Art School and Gallery collection. Exhibited “Le Soir” and “Étude” at the Paris Salon, received honourable mention. Sketchbooks indicate trips to : Italy, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, France and England. Owens Art School began first term in October 1885; Hammond returned to Saint John to assume teaching duties.


Listed in Sain John City Directory as artist. Published catalogue for the Owens Art School art collection. April: exhibited “Evening” at London’s Royal Academy Exhibition.


Summer: sketching in Europe: Italy, Holland, England and Switzerland. Exhibited “Coucher de Soleil” at Saint John New Brunswick at the Paris Salon and the Royal Academy, London; recived very favorable reviews.


Exhibited “On the seashore” at the Royal Academy, London.


Exhibited “Evening” at the Royal Academy, London. Elected Associate member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.


Spent two summers painting with William Brymner (1855-1925) in the Canadian Rockies for the Canadian Pacific Railway’s promotional campaign.


Commissioned intermittently to paint for the Canadian Pacific Railway.


Exhibited three paintings at the Chicago World’s Fair Canadian Fine Arts Pavilion, and seventeen paintings of the Rocky Mountains in the C.P.R. Pavilion. Received excellent reviews for C.P.R. paintings as evidence of a new, independent school of Canadian mountanscape painting. Owens Art Gallery and School sold to Mount Allison Ladies College, Sackville, N.B.; Hammond transferred with the school. Became full member, Royal Canadian Academy; deposited “Herring Fishing” as Diploma Painting (National Gallery of Canada).


Exhibited in C.P.R. Pavilion at Paris Exhibition


Travelled in China and Japan painting for the C.P.R. to promote the new steamship lines to the Orient.


Exhibited at Pan-American Exhibition, Buffalo; received silver medal.


Married Miss Stark.


Exhibited at Louisiana Purchase Exposition, St. Louis; received bronze medal.


Painted set of six large murals for the C.P.R. London office


Appointed Director of Owens Art Museum and art School. Begins annual one-man exhibitions in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto (to 1930’s).


Retired from the Owens Art Museum and School.


Major exhibit held at the Van Dyck Gallery, Ogilvy’s, Montreal.


Awarded Honorary LL.D. by Mount Allison University.


Retired from Royal Canadian Academy of Arts


August 10: died at Sackville at the age of 96