George Agnew Reid: Life & Work explores how one artist helped define the emerging nation of Canada through his paintings, his instrumental role in championing public art, his decades-long career as a teacher, and his ambitious architectural projects that followed in the footsteps of Britain’s famed Arts and Crafts movement. In the first publication to present a thorough analysis of the accomplished career of George Agnew Reid (1860–1947), author Brian Foss tells the captivating story of an eminent artist, educator, and administrator who, above all, was driven by his belief, in his words, in “art for life’s sake” and “art as an expression of the life of mankind.”


A champion of making good art accessible to everyone, Reid was one of the most significant figures in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Canadian art. A painter, architect, and influential teacher and principal of the Ontario College of Art (now OCAD University), he exerted a wide-ranging impact on visual culture in the country for five decades. Inspired by his memories of growing up in rural Ontario, Reid launched his reputation as a painter of quiet scenes of everyday life, rising to a celebrated status while still a young man with works such as The Call to Dinner, 1886–87; The Story, 1890; and, most notably, Mortgaging the Homestead, 1890. These canvases and others marked the beginning of a creative practice that would come to span a diverse range of media.


“George Agnew Reid held the conviction that everyone has the right to access beautiful objects and excellent design in their daily lives. More than any other Canadian artist of his time, he lobbied to win over ordinary citizens, institutions, and government officials to this point of view. Although Reid first established his reputation as a painter of everyday scenes, his creative work also encompassed large historical murals, domestic and institutional architecture, and the design of furniture and other commonplace objects. ”BRIAN FOSS


Born in the small community of Wingham, Ontario, Reid briefly studied at the Ontario School of Art (1878–79 and 1882) before enrolling at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1882–84), where he was taught by the renowned American realist painter Thomas Eakins (1844–1916), under whom he received rigorous artistic and anatomical training. It was also there that he met his first wife, the American-born artist Mary Hiester Reid (1854–1921). In 1885, upon his return to Toronto, Reid built a reputation as one of the country’s first artists to receive European recognition with his scenes capturing the joys and hardships of ordinary rural life. He went on to become a prolific muralist, architect, arts organizer and administrator, and champion of the applied arts.


About the author

Brian Foss is Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus of Art and Architectural History (Carleton University). He has curated and co-curated exhibitions of historical Canadian art, including shows on Mary Hiester Reid (Art Gallery of Ontario, 2000, with Janice Anderson), Edwin Holgate (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 2005, with Rosalind Pepall), and the Beaver Hall Group (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 2015, with Jacques Des Rochers). His 2007 monograph War Paint: Art, War, State and Identity in Britain 1939–45 (Yale University Press) was shortlisted for the international William M.B. Berger Prize for British Art History. In 2010, with Anne Whitelaw and Sandra Paikowsky, he co-edited The Visual Arts in Canada: The Twentieth Century (Oxford University Press).

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