1855 – 1925
Brymner was born in Scotland, raised in rural Quebec, and spent his formative years in Ottawa. In the late-1870s he began studying and painting in Europe, and by the 1880's he was exhibiting in the French Salon. Thoroughly grounding himself in the techniques of draftsmanship, formal harmony, and technical excellence, Brymner rebelled against the tradition of studio paintings on grand themes. Instead his sympathy lay with the naturalist painters of the Barbizon School who went searching the French countryside for picturesque subjects to sketch and paint using natural rather than constructed effects. For his entire career Brymner held that drawing and direct observation lay at the heart image making.
In the summer of 1985 Brymner travelled to rural Quebec where he applied his French training to Canadian subjects, producing some of his best work and building his reputation as one of the outstanding Canadian figure and landscape painters of his generation. In 1886 he moved back to Canada and settled in Montreal, becoming a member of both the RCA and the OSA and serving as president of the RCA from 1909 to 1917.
His openness to new movements and propensity to experiment informed both his painting and his pedagogy, putting him at the core of the creative circle that made Montréal the hub of Canadian art in the early 20th century. In 1886 Brymner was appointed director of the school of the Art Association of Montreal, a position he held for 35 years; the list of his students includes Clarence Gagnon, A.Y. Jackson, Clarence Gagnon, George Agnew Reid, Edwin Holgate, Lilias Torrance Newton, and Sarah Robertson. To these students and others, he helped introduce French methods and aesthetic concepts while at the same time encouraging independent thought.
Over his lifetime Brymner forged a significant international career, exhibiting in major shows in North America and Europe. He was a gold and silver medalist respectively at the 1901 Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo and the 1904 Louisiana Purchase exposition in St Louis. Brymner suffered a stroke in 1917 and by 1927 had ended his painting career. He spent the rest of his life travelling in Europe and in England, where he died at Wallasey in 1925.