This frieze decorated the studio of the landscape painter Homer Watson (1855–1936). Soon after his marriage in 1881, he and his wife, Roxa, rented the upper part of a solidly built house in Doon, Ontario. When the couple bought the property in 1893, Watson’s career was in full bloom, and he took advantage of his comfortable income to build a long-needed studio addition onto the house. He then decorated both it and the original studio with a painted frieze that still runs along the full length of the walls, immediately below the ceiling.
The frieze is a tribute to thirteen European landscape painters who were especially admired by Watson: Claude Lorrain (c.1600–1682), John Constable (1776–1837), Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796–1875), Charles-François Daubigny (1817–1878), Narcisse Díaz de la Peña (1807–1876), Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788), Meindert Hobbema (1638–1709), Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848–1884), Jean-François Millet (1814–1875), Salvator Rosa (1615–1673), Théodore Rousseau (1812–1867), J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851), and Jacob van Ruisdael (1628–1682). Superimposed over each name are one or (more rarely) two small landscapes conceived by Watson in that artist’s style. The studio frieze is as much a personal nod to artists who enriched Watson’s own work as it is a recognition of landscape painting’s rich history.
Watson believed that all worthwhile art was grounded in tradition. His studio frieze offers visual confirmation of that conviction by paying homage to the European painters he—and the majority of other Canadian landscape painters of the time—most admired.
This Spotlight is excerpted from Homer Watson: Life & Work by Brian Foss.