"Fraser handles watercolours with a bold, free hand, and is apparently a studious observer of transient effects of light and the various aerial changes that constitute the charm of landscape beauty amidst lofty peaks..." Daily News, London, 31 May 1887
John Fraser's oil and watercolour landscapes, with their photographic realism, were a critical success in his time. He was also involved in the formation of a number of art societies in Montreal and Toronto that played a key role in nineteenth-century Canada.
Fraser and his family immigrated to Canada in 1858. Two years later, he was working for photographer William Notman's firm in Montreal, and then in Toronto. His job was to enhance photographs by adding colour and painted landscapes. This contact with photography had a considerable influence on his style of painting. He regularly travelled from the Eastern Townships to New England and sent his landscapes to the exhibitions of the Art Association of Montreal. His arrival in Toronto had a stimulating effect on art circles: he created the Society of Canadian Artists, which later became the Ontario Society of Artists, and helped to found the Royal Academy of Canada, to which he presented Laurentian Splendour (1880) as a diploma work.
In 1886, Sir William Cornelius Van Horne and Sir George Stephen, co-director and president, respectively, of the Canadian Pacific Railway, chose Fraser to illustrate the beauties of the Rocky Mountains (At the Rogers Pass, Summit of the Selkirk Range, B.C., 1886). Three years later, Fraser went to paint in the Kent region in England. His works were shown at the National Academy of London, the Salon de Paris, and the Chicago World's Columbian Fair, where they earned him a medal. Fraser spent the last years of his life in the United States – in Boston, where he was one of the founding members of the Boston Watercolor Society, and in New York.