William Raphael

 “The faithful transference of truth and beauty is not a thing that depends on fashion…”

William Raphael is best known for his portraits and lively Canadian genre scenes.  He was also a prolific painter of landscapes and contributed to the field of education, both in public institutions and in his own private school in Montreal.  

In 1850, William Raphael left his native Nakel in Prussia to study at the Royal Academy of Berlin under the portraitist Johann Eduard Wolff and the genre painter Karl Begas.  Raphael left for Canada seven years later, settling in Montreal.  He made his living mainly through commissioned portraits and by painting a variety of religious scenes for several Catholic orders.  He also travelled to various regions of Quebec and Ontario to experience and paint the Canadian landscape.

 His genre scenes, such as Behind Bonsecours Market, Montreal (1866) and Indian Encampment on the Lower St. Lawrence (1879), strove to document the romantic aspects of Canadian life as seen through the eyes of an immigrant.  In 1880, one year after he was accepted in the Ontario Society of Artists, Raphael became a charter member of the newly formed Royal Canadian Academy.  There, he taught the first course in figure painting and drawing.  One year later, he formed his own successful school.  Raphael continued teaching in his mid-70s and left a precious legacy, recording for posterity scenes of a vanishing way of life.

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