Lucius O'Brien P.R.C.A.

Lake Kenogami, 1885

watercolour and graphite on paper
9x13 in.

Private collection;
Masters Gallery Ltd., Calgary;
Private collection, Calgary

There is little accessible documentation on Lucius O’Brien’s life in between 1884 and 1886, but it’s likely that he spent the summer of 1885 taking part in regular sketching trips around his “familiar haunts throughout the Great Lakes” (1). From 1880 to it’s final publication in 1884, O’Brien had freshly completed a huge project as the illustration supervisor for Picturesque Canada: The Country as It Was and Is, a series that was one of the first to outline the landscape of the country. His income from the project had allowed him to devote his time to his artistic practice, and it was during this period, as the 1880s progressed, the O’Brien shifted his focus heavily to watercolours.

Evidently, the artist spent time in the fall of 1885 on Kénogami Lake. The lake, located in the Saguenay-Lac-St.-Jean region of Quebec, drains into the St. Lawrence river via the Saguenay River, an area that O’Brien frequented, and where he painted his famous Sunrise on the Saguenay. This work is a fabulous insight into the artists sketching process, and showcases his handling of the watercolour medium.

1. Dennis Reid, “O’BRIEN, LUCIUS RICHARD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 10, 2022,

Lucius O’Brien (1832 – 1899) Lucius O’Brien was born in Shanty Bay, Ontario. He attended the Upper Canada College in Toronto. He received training in Architecture but was self-taught as a painter. O’Brien was vice president of OSA from 1873 to 1880 and became the first president of the RCA…