Historic Art | Robert Pilot R.C.A.
About the Artist
Robert Wakeham Pilot was born in St. John's, Newfoundland, 1898. His widowed mother married the Canadian artist Maurice Cullen in 1910 and they went back to Cullen's home in Montreal. Young Robert often assisted his stepfather doing chores in the studio and thus learned the craft from the bottom up. He also attended night classes at the Monument National and later at the Royal Canadian Academy under William Brymner, painting from the live model. He also painted landscapes when he accompanied his stepfather on sketching trips to the country. With the financial assistance of William Brymner, he took classes at the Art Association of Montreal until March 1916, when he enlisted for active duty in the army.
In the spring of 1919, he returned to Brymner's classes where he won the Wood Scholarship. In 1920, while attending a farewell dinner for Edwin Holgate who was departing for Paris, one of the guests, Walter Hislop, offered Pilot enough money to study in Paris for two years with the sole condition that he repay him whenever he could. Pilot never hesitated, and departed for Paris where he stayed until 1922. In 1925, he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy, his painting Quebec From Levis was exhibited at the R.C.A. show and purchased by the National Gallery of Canada. The painting shows Pilot's blending of an Impressionist technique with the harsher style developed by Cullen in the portrayal of the Canadian winter atmosphere. We can also detect an influence from the great Canadian landscapist James Wilson Morrice, whom he admired immensely.
In 1927, his first solo show at the Watson Art Galleries was very successful. In the same year, he traveled abroad, visiting France, Spain, and Northern Africa. In 1935, he completed a mural The Chalet on Mount Royal overlooking Montreal. From 1938 to 1940, he was professor of Engraving at the École des Beaux-Arts, and in 1941 enlisted in the Canadian Army. While in Italy, his mention in dispatches led to him being awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1944.
After the war Pilot returned to his chosen profession. He subsequently received outstanding honours: in 1952, he was elected President of the Royal Canadian Academy and held that office until 1953, when he was awarded the Coronation Medal; in 1953, he was elected member of the National Academy of Design in the U.S.A; in the same year, Bishop's University conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Civil Laws (Honoris Causa).
In 1955, one of his paintings was presented to Winston Churchill on his 80th birthday, and in 1957, Prime Minister Diefenbaker presented one of his works to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip to commemorate their visit to Canada. Robert Pilot died in 1967 at the age of 69. In that year, writing on the occasion of a retrospective of Pilot's works at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the National Gallery of Canada, and the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Paul Duval noted:
Throughout a career of half-a-century, Pilot quietly explored the impressionist vein of art. Although aware and appreciative of the works of other, more volatile artists, he was never tempted to stray from the artistic tradition which best suited his temperament and purpose.
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