Jack Weldon Humphrey (1901-1967)

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UNTITLED (SAINT JOHN HARBOUR)
UNTITLED (SAINT JOHN HARBOUR)

ARTIST PROFILE

A painter, watercolourist, draughtsman and printmaker, Jack Humphrey brought a modernist approach to both figurative and abstract work inspired by his native Saint John. With particular attention to form, composition and colour, he created cityscapes and harbour scenes that convey the natural disorder of buildings, streets and boats. His portraits of working class children are moody character studies that convey both the hardships of the Depression, and the resilience and hopefulness of youth.

Jack Weldon Humphrey was born in Saint John, in 1901. He studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, under Phillip Hale and painting at the National Academy of Design, the Arts Students League, New York, and Charles Hawthorn's Cape Cod School. He was a Tiffany Foundation student at Oyster Bay, Long Island, 1927. In 1929 he studied in Paris with Andre Lhote, and at the Grande Chaumiere Academy and in Munich at the Hans Hofmann School until 1930. He also travelled in Italy, Holland, Belgium, and England.

Humphrey returned to Saint John in the summer of 1930, several months into the Depression, and started painting the city and its inhabitants, creating still lifes, and doing field sketches in the region. In 1933, he spent several months in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, exhibiting with the Canadian Group of Painters at the Art Gallery of Toronto, and befriending John Lyman, Jori Smith and Jean Palardy. By the mid-1930s, Humphrey was achieving recognition outside New Brunswick. In 1938, he travelled to Mexico, where he made over 100 watercolours and drawings, which he exhibited the following year at Toronto's Picture Loan Society. During the war, he was commissioned as an unofficial war artist to paint portraits of soldiers. In 1952, Humphrey returned to France on a fellowship, spending a year in Paris and two months in Brittany. The majority of his life was spent in Saint John where he was a full-time painter. In 1966, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery organized a retrospective exhibition of the artist's work which was circulated across the country by the National Gallery of Canada.

Humphrey was a member of the Canadian Group of Painters, Eastern Group of Painters, Contemporary Arts Society, Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour, Canadian Society of Graphic Arts, and International Association of Plastic Arts, and a Fellow of the International Institute of Arts and Letters. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of New Brunswick in 1951.

From his obituary in 1967 -

A shy, retiring man who began drawing critics' praise in the 1930's... Critics on an international level praised his 'nostalgic still life', his fusing of the figurative with the abstract in black sky landscapes', his master watercolour and portrait techniques'. And from renowned critic Robert Ayre came this summary: "He does not play games with physics but he is absorbed in what the eye sees and the pleasure in it... he is single-minded in his explorations and he has a lonely and uncompromising distinction".