Farquhar McGillivray Knowles (1859-1932)
"Woman and Cherubim"
9" x 13.5"
Provenance: Hamilton Private Collection
Born in 1959, he received his early education at Guelph, Ontario. He was raised under the influence of his military grandfather and entered West Point to take an artillery course about 1877. A serious accident during his fourth year brought an end to the possibility of his following a military career. McGillivray Knowles however was more drawn to the arts and after his accident at the academy, he got a job retouching photographs for a New York firm and followed art studies also in that city.
He returned to Canada and became employed by Messrs Notman and Fraser, Toronto, and studied miniature painting and water colours under John A. Fraser, RCA, co-owner of the firm. Fraser was one of the most accomplished watercolourists in Canada at that time, and Knowles soon benefited from his instruction. In 1889 Knowles was elected Associate of the Royal Canadian Academy, an appointment according to E.J. Hathaway, which was won on his reputation as a watercolourist.
His first wife, Ada Cullen, had died in 1887 and in 1890 he married Elizabeth Beach who had studied under Sir Hubert von Herkomer, R.A., two years, and then went on to Paris where he spent the next four years under the instruction of Benjamin Constant, Jean Paul Laurens, Henri Gervais and Veir Schmidt (in drafting).
Returning to Canada, Knowles opened a school of painting, design, ceramics, life classes, where many students received excellent training. Of this period, Hathaway wrote, “He was keenly interested in literature, music, and his moments of leisure indulged in a passion for carpentry, yachting, motoring, shooting and travel. Some years ago his beautiful studio in Toronto was filled with pictures, rigs, and quaint curios picked up in many parts of the world, and there he and his accomplished wife, herself also a musician and artist...kept open house, for they had a wide circle of friends and occupied a prominent place in the social life of the city.”
In 1916, the Knowles went to New York and lived on his yacht for a year and painted in the harbour of Manhattan. He was then fifty-seven years old. He returned to Toronto but in 1920 he moved with his wife to New York where they took up residence. They returned to Canada often and continued to participate in all the important exhibitions of the time, including the Royal Canadian Academy annuals. He was especially known for his marines, noted, as follows, by E.W.H. Of “The Ottawa Citizen” during his showing in that city, “In the United States he has a strong following of those who admire his pictures of the sea. There are a number of these on view at the present exhibition and a few of them represent his highest achievement in this direction. They are all notable for their freedom of movement and authentic atmosphere. One of these is 'Windswept' a very successful rendering of air, sky and water as the tide begins to ebb on a bright boisterous day. Another is 'Shades of Evening,' which depicts a seaway set against a range of steep and sombre hills. The whitecaps dance and the wind carries the waves before it. It is close of day, and the last rays of the sun strike the summit of the hills in the background while a ghostly schooner runs for home in the shaded lee of the cliffs.”
By 1928 the Knowles has established a new studio at their summer home in Riverton, New Hampshire, where Elizabeth A. Knowles died the same year. McGillivray Knowles returned to Toronto and in 1931 marries Lila Taylor, an artist in her own right, and former student of his. Several years later she became Art Director at Alma College, St. Thomas, Ontario.
In 1932, however, McGillivray Knowles died. Reviewing briefly his career, the “Mail and Empire” noted, “His 'Titian Bathers' was for many years one of the most notable pictures in the Chicago Art Institute. Land and sea pictures from his brush are to be found in nearly all Toronto's seats of higher education and os his best known portraits might be mentioned those of Sir Robert Falconer, Hon. Chester Massey, Mrs. Timothy Eaton and Miss Addison. His series 'The History of Music' is in the deaconess home in this city and the 'Finding of Leander by Hero' has been for years in the Ontario Art Museum.”
Knowles was survived by his wife Lila Taylor McGillivray Knowles, two brothers William James Knowles (Toronto) and Arthur Strachan Knowles (Sydney, Australia); four sisters: Mrs. Ray B. Howilster, Miss Emma and Miss Jessie Knowles (Pasadena, California, USA) and Mrs. Frank Franklin (Hollywood, California). A Memorial Exhibition of F. McGillivray Knowles took place at the Art Gallery of Toronto in October of 1932. It included paintings, prints, drawings and lithographs. Subsequently, exhibitions of his work took place in the years that followed including: Mellors Galleries (Toronto) 1941; The Robert Simpson Co., Ltd. 1944, also in this exhibition were paintings by Elizabeth Knowles and Lila C. Knowles; Jerrold Morris International Gallery (Toronto), 1966. He is represented in the National Gallery of Canada as well as the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen's University at Kingston.
Source: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume I: A-F", compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1977