W. Blair Bruce

1859 - 1906

“I felt that I was a painter not of things but the feeling of things, the spiritual more than the earthly, poetry rather than prose.” (1881)

William Blair Bruce was a painter of a wide range of subject matter. His work included mythological scenes, portraits, genre, plein air landscapes, and seascapes. His style was also diverse, influenced by his academic training, the Barbizon school, and impressionism. He was a key figure in the art history of his hometown, Hamilton.

Bruce went to Paris in 1881, where he studied at the Académie Julian. He spent time with other artists, such as Suzor-Coté and Brymner, in Barbizon and Giverny. It was there he discarded dark colours in favour of a new palette of bright hues, as seen in [The Smiths, 1894]. The most difficult event in his life came in 1885, when 200 of his paintings en route to Canada sank in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Shortly after, he married Swedish sculptor Caroline Benedicks. The couple travelled often, making their home on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. This shoreline figured prominently in Bruce’s later works.

After his early death, Bruce’s widow and father gave the City of Hamilton twenty-nine of his works. The donation of the Blair Bruce Collection became the foundation of the Art Gallery of Hamilton. Bruce won a gold medal at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. In his memory are the Brucebo and W.B. Bruce Fine Art Scholarships, offering Canadian artists an opportunity to live and paint on the island of Gotland.

W. Blair Bruce
Photography: M.O. Hammond Collection, National Gallery of Canada Archives

Birth name

W. Blair Bruce


Born in Hamilton, Ontario, 08 October 1859


Died in Stockholm, Sweden, 17 November 1906




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