The writer acknowledges the financial support of the Whyte Museum and its archives for the research associated with the texts in this blog. Opinions in this blog text are the author’s own.

The Whyte Museum in Banff will feature an exhibition entitled Artistry Revealed: Peter Whyte, Catharine Robb Whyte and Their Contemporaries. June 17th to October 21st, 2018. A book, accompanying the exhibition, will be published. The exhibition and publication are supported by the Museum Assistance Program of the Government of Canada.

Introduction: Banff, as an International Destination

When I lived in Banff (1972-74) locals used to say that if you waited long enough, you would meet someone you knew on Banff Avenue no matter where they lived. Banff was an international destination. Everyone eventually visits Banff. And this proved true, but what was also true is that a lot of people you won’t know come to Banff and you might get to meet them there, and connect.

What made Banff the international destination that it was is an interesting story, and it inevitably affects those who live there and those who visit. It is a unique place. For those few actually born in Banff, it provides a different world view because from early on, they have an expansive view of community.

The history and development of Banff National Park are linked to the tourism amenities made available from its early history. Added to these, the development of mountaineering and skiing communities would bring even more visitors to Banff. The creation of the Alpine Club of Canada in 1906–in Winnipeg of all places– promoted mountaineering in the ranges in Alberta and British Columbia. Another endeavour, in Banff, was the Banff Winter Carnival, the result of an effort Austrian skier Conrad Kain who built a ski jump down Tunnel Mountain and organized a winter sports festival in 1911, which evolved into the Banff Winter Carnival in 1917.

These events attracted young people in Banff, and the ski industry developed as a result. Cliff White, the eldest son of pioneer merchant David White, helped the fledgeling ski industry to develop. His brother Peter was an avid skier from a young age. But he was destined for an artistic career, rather than an athletic one.

2. Peter Whyte in Banff

Born on 22 January 1905, he manifested some interest in drawing. He attended high school in Banff but never graduated. While in his teens, he took a correspondence course in cartooning, and developed his artistic interests on his own, without any encouragement from his parents.

Peter had been inspired by the first professional artist who settled in Banff. Nora Drummond-Davies (1862-1949) is known to have settled in Banff as early as 1916. She taught art classes in the local schools where one of her students was Peter White.

The year 1916 also brought a very illustrious visiting artist from Boston in the person of John Singer Sargent (1856-1925).  He usually travelled to Switzerland for the summers, but given the dangers to commercial shipping wrought by the Germans, Sargent decided to come to Canada instead. The Brewster Company helped Sargent set up his camp in Yoho Park, just across the Continental Divide, first to paint Twin Falls in the Yoho Valley, and later at Lake O’Hara. The result was one of the most extraordinary landscapes of Lake O’Hara ever painted. The first Canadian artist to visit the area was probably Bell-Smith who had visited both lakes O’Hara and McArthur in 1904.

In 1921, five years after Sargent’s visit, two American artists coincidentally decided to establish summer studios in Banff. They were Belmore Browne (1880-1954), who purchased a house on Spray Avenue, and Carl Rungius (1869-1979) who purchased a lot on the road to the upper hot springs where he built a house and studio. Both were already well-known artists of landscape and wildlife. Both were hunters familiar with the mountains from previous excursions to American mountain ranges. Rungius had first visited Banff in 1910 at the invitation of outdoorsman and outfitter Jimmy Simpson.

Peter Whyte, who was 16 in 1921, soon met these two artists, just when his interest in art was growing. He was often employed by the Brewster Company as a chauffeur for visiting tourists, many of whom were from the eastern United States. Belmore Browne especially encouraged Peter’s interests and provided him with art materials, the younger artist accompanying him on some sketching trips. It was Browne who suggested to Peter that he should attend art school at the recently opened Otis Art Institute in Westlake near Los Angeles. Peter travelled to California in 1923 and attended classes at Otis in 1923-24. Returning to Banff in 1924, he met the New England landscape artist Aldro T. Hibbard (1876-1972) who was visiting and may have painted in his company. Hibbard returned to the area in 1925 on his honeymoon. Hibbard suggested that Peter attend a more established school, the Boston Museum’s School of Fine Art, which he had himself attended from 1909 to1913.

2. Catharine Robb in Concord, Mass., 1906-1925

Catharine Robb was 19 when she first attended the Boston School of Fine Arts in 1925. She came from a prominent wealthy family living in Concord, Mass., where art and culture were very much part of the environment. Her grandfather was Edward Sylvester Morse, a noted scholar and collector with previous associations with the Peabody Museum of Salem and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Her father, a prominent engineer with Stone & Webster, a pioneering firm of electrical engineers, prospered with the company.

Before her society debut in December of 1924, she had attended a private school since 1921, the Wheeler School, in Providence, RI, a school focused on the arts and liberal arts, where she graduated in 1924. She excelled in art and art history. The family commissioned her portrait by Frederick Bosley (1881-1942), a Concord resident, who taught painting at the Boston Museum School.

The summer of 1924 was spent travelling abroad, on a grand tour of Europe. Departing from Boston on 9 June 1924, Catharine and her family arrived in Liverpool nine days later. Visits to the National and Tate galleries in London are mentioned in her journal, as well as the British Museum. Cathedral visits are also mentioned, including Gloucester, Wells, Salisbury and Winchester. In Holland and Belgium by mid-July, she visited The Hague, Haarlem, Amsterdam, Brussels, Brugge and Ghent where she mentions seeing the great Van Eyck altarpiece, The Adoration of the Lamb.

In Paris, the family attended performances of Faust at the Opera and Carmen at the Opéra Comique. They visited the Louvre, Versailles, and Fontainebleau as well as the village of Barbizon where Millet’s studio was located. Back in Paris, there were visits to the Eiffel Tower, the Bois de Boulogne and Montmartre, as well as a dinner at La Tour d’Argent. A motor trip to the Loire Valley afforded some visits to famous châteaux such as Chenonceaux, Amboise, Azay-le-Rideau, Chinon and Ussé. From Tours, they travelled to Nantes and into Brittany, visiting Pont-Aven, Concarneau and Quimper, then on to Mont St-Michel before returning to Paris and visiting the Luxembourg galleries where Catharine noted in her journal there were “some awfully good modern pictures we enjoyed.”[1] In 1925, the Musée du Luxembourg housed collections of Realist, Barbizon and Impressionist paintings as a result of various gifts and acquisitions at the turn of the 20th century.[2]

They then travelled to Switzerland by way of Dijon, stopping at Geneva, Lausanne and Lucerne before crossing the border into Italy, visiting Como and Verona. In Venice, they stayed at the famous Hotel Daniele, taking in a performance of Puccini’s La Bohème at the Fenice Opera house. The trip continued with a stay in Florence and in Perugia before moving on to Rome where all the major landmarks were visited, as well as the Villa Borghese and the Vatican Museums. They finally reached Naples, by way of the Campania, and after a visit to Pompeii, they boarded a ship at Naples on 2 October, arriving in New York on 11 October.

At the very beginning of her tour in London, she wrote in her journal (30 June): “I was so glad to see such famous pictures I studied about in school,” and that statement could be applied to the entire tour, when one remembers that the study of art history at places such as Wheeler at the time would be through black and white lantern slides, illustrations in black and white or chromolithographs.  Of course, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts was not too distant and offered a very fine collection. Catharine notes in a later interview, “My mother wanted me to be an artist more than I did” adding that her mother had gone to the same school in Boston.[3]

Nevertheless, few first-year students arriving at the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in the fall of 1925 could have boasted of recent visits to some of the great museums of Europe.

3. School of Art at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (1925-30)

One of the best American art schools in New England was the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, founded in 1876. Boston was noteworthy for the presence of a number of artists who had trained in Paris, most notably at the Académie Julian. The School’s teaching was modelled on that of the Académie des Beaux-Arts of Paris, which meant a rigorous academic training based on drawing and the human figure. Nevertheless, the early faculty at the School was very interested in modern French painting, such as represented by the Barbizon, Realist and Impressionist schools. It is the influence of this French aesthetic that set the school apart from others in the area. As Christopher Volpe has written:

“The Boston School aesthetic blended sophistication, exacting skill, and draftsmanship with mastery of light and dedication to representing the “truth” of the visible world; it was driven by an earnest faith in the ideal of beauty and in the act of painting as an essentially good and worthy contribution to humanity. At the same time, the Boston artists’ embrace of loose, spontaneous methods appalled traditional academics, ignited a whirl of exhibitions and acquisitions, and best of all, disgusted New York, at least at first.”[4]

The Boston aesthetic was avant-garde when compared to the Hudson River School aesthetic that prevailed in New York in the 1870s and 1880s. This would change substantially in the first two decades of the 20th century, when Boston ceded its leadership position in modern art to New York, as a result of its reaction to the International Exhibition of Modern Art held in New York in February 1913, when about 1,250 works of art, by 300 American and European artists, were shown at the 69th regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue. Organized by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, the majority of works were by contemporary American artists, but the exhibition included an overview of the more modern tendencies in art by French artists, from Impressionists such as Monet, Postimpressionists such as Cézanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh, works by Fauve artists Henri Matisse, Cubist artists such as Francis Picabia and Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. It also included work by Symbolists such as Puvis de Chavannes and Odilon Redon. Among the American artists featured in the Armory Show were those associated with New York’s Ashcan school.

The outrage was centred on the avant-garde European artists, some of whom had already been shown at Alfred Stieglitz’s “291″ gallery. An equally outraged reaction occurred when a reduced version of the Armory show consisting of 634 works was exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago 24 March to 16 April. By the time Boston’s Copley Society Gallery hosted it for a three-week duration, a very different exhibition was presented, reduced to 300 works, all by the European artists. Attendance was modest, compared to New York and Chicago. At the closing of the exhibition, a newspaper critic could write:

“Without an apparent ripple on the surface of the stream of daily life in Boston, the Fauves are departing from ‘among us,’ unwept, unhonored and unsung. The international exhibition of modern what-do-you-call-ems at Copley Hall is over.” [5]

That the response in Boston was so tepid was due to its relative indifference to avant-garde European developments. Boston’s artists were not affected by the Armory Show, compared to those in New York and Chicago. Was this complacency? It seems to have provided an opportunity for them to reaffirm their adherence to the solid values based on French academic standards, touched with the freshness that Impressionism had brought to painting in the latter part of the 19th century, as well as its celebration of upper middle-class elegance and sophistication.

A little more than a year after the Armory Show, World War I began to ravage Europe putting an end, for the time being, to the frantic experimentation that had characterized French and German art in cities such as Paris, Munich, Vienna and Prague. By 1918, artists and intellectuals began to express a nostalgia for more stable times perhaps best expressed by the expression “a return to order” or a “call to order.”[6] For Boston, this meant a kind of reaffirmation of the values it had upheld since the late 1880s. By the time Peter White and Catharine Robb arrived for their first semester at the end of September 1925, the School retained its reputation. Its adherence to traditional values was reflected in its academic teachings which would go unchallenged until the late 1930s. In contrast to New York, where an interest in modern art developed, Boston preferred painterly scenes of elegance and gentility.

The semester started on 28 September 1925. Peter White’s most significant art experiences would have been the works of Carl Rungius and Belmore Browne. With money earned between 1924 and 1925 (as his parents were not about to support him in this endeavour), he registered at the Boston School.

All of the instructors at the School in 1925 were established academic artists, most of them having studied in Paris. The youngest was Leslie P. Thompson (1880-1963) who was 37 years old. He had already been teaching at the school for twelve years and was a follower of Edmund C. Tarbell (1862-1938), one of the pillars of the Boston School. He was one of Peter and Catharine’s first teachers, the instruction of that year consisting of drawing from plaster casts in charcoal. Catharine’s first mention of Peter occurs on 11 November 1925 where she mentions his skiing abilities. “Peter White, a Canadian, is one of the best of skiiers and was in the Canadian circuit last year, which goes all around trying the various jumps. He’s been over all the highest.” [7] They both did quite well during their first year, Catharine even winning the year-end Concours for a figure study. Portraiture would remain her preferred genre, as she would later admit.[8]

During that academic year, they would get to know each other, Catharine described him in her journal (March 17, 1926) as “a perfect, blue-eyed innocent boy, kind and good and ought to paint well one day.”[9] At times they visited Boston exhibitions together. There was an exhibition of Belmore Browne’s Rocky Mountain pictures at the Casson Gallery, one of which she bought. Another exhibition was that of Aldro T. Hibbard who was exhibiting at the Boston Artists’ Guild Gallery.[10] Catharine wrote of Hibbard’s pictures as “wonderful” with “so much strength and color.” Peter was able to introduce Catharine to Mr and Mrs Hibbard.

There is no record that either did much work during the summer of 1926. Peter had the opportunity to sketch with Belmore Browne, if he had spare time from working for Brewster’s, chauffeuring hotel guests or accompanying them on excursions to the Lake Louise area and the Yoho Valley. This was the first summer that the new Lake O’Hara lodge was open for business. Guests that year including the etcher Herbert Raine from Montreal, Lawren Harris and his family in mid-July and later J.E.H. MacDonald from Toronto, the latter’s third summer trip to the Rockies. In mid-to-late August, three artists from Winnipeg were camped on Lake O’Hara, at some distance from the lodge. They were Walter J. Phillips, Thomas Wesley McLean and Eric Bergman. The Rocky Mountains were a popular destination for artists during the 1920s.

As for Catharine, she spent the summer in Concord (MA) and Seal Harbor in Maine, enjoying the social set that summered there. On 31 August, she wrote in her journal of her resolution: “I want to be a great artist. I have every advantage, can buy the best material and go abroad,” yet recognizing that “when you have the wherewithal it is harder to set to work.”[11]

Over the next three years, undergoing an academic training, both Peter and Catharine would begin to mature as artists. In one sense, Peter matured more quickly due to his returning to Banff every summer, often leaving before the end of term when opportunities for employment came his way. A number of times, he accompanied Chinese workers travelling through Canada under bond ensuring their return to China after working in Caribbean countries. Despite his early spring departures, the School awarded him scholarships so he could return. The relationship between Peter and Catharine developed, especially after the death of Catharine’s father in February of 1927. It seems that as a result, she found Peter’s company comfortable. He was unpretentious, honest, genuine and easy to talk too, a refreshing change from the Boston social circles with which she was familiar. They encouraged and believed in each other.

In the fall of 1927, before returning to Boston, Peter met J.E.H. MacDonald (1873-1932) at Lake O’Hara. MacDonald was visiting the Rockies for his fourth consecutive year. Their acquaintance would be renewed there every year through 1930. This meant that Peter Whyte was getting varied experience in landscape painting. A few sketching trips with Belmore Browne boosted his confidence in his abilities. He noted on one trip in April of 1928 how he had produced a sketch, “the first sketch I made that he raved about and said he really liked, and it gave me much encouragement. … My colors are not quite right yet, but that will come later on.”[12]

There is no evidence that Catharine painted much landscape until she visited Banff during the summer of 1929. Catharine’s trip to the mountains was of critical importance for her. She not only loved the mountains but was also given some idea as to what life in the mountains would be like. She took to it easily.

Peter did not attend the Boston School for the 1929-30 term. In the fall, he was at Lake O’Hara sketching first with J.E.H. MacDonald, and also Richard Jack (1866-1952). Jack was a British-born artist, originally one of Canada’s War Artists at the end of the First World War. He had immigrated to Canada in 1927, settling in Montreal. Peter’s two sketching companions could not have been more different in their approach to the landscape.

Jim Brewster had suggested he work in the company’s Honolulu office for awhile, and Peter found a way to sail to Honolulu by way of China and Japan. From Honolulu he then took a boat back to the Orient, then on to Indonesia, through the Red Sea and to Europe, thus going around the world before joining Catharine again in London, where the couple planned to marry. By the time the wedding date approached, Catharine had thought it better to go through with a social wedding in Concord, as would have been expected of her, and to which Peter agreed. They reunited in Edinburgh and sailed back to New York, arriving on 1st of June.

(to be continued)

(c)  2018. Roger H. Boulet

To A Shared Love of Canada’s Rocky Mountains, Part II

Notes to Part I

[1]. Catharine’s travel diaries are preserved, along with much of her extensive correspondence at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, providing the primary source for biographical details in this text.

[2] The Musée du Luxembourg collections would not be transferred to the Louvre until 1928.Later, these collections were housed at the Musée du Jeu de Paume after 1947. Most of these collections were subsequently transferred to the Musée du Quai d’Orsay after its creation in 1977 where they remain to this day. and (7 February 2018).

[3] Joan Murray, “Catharine Robb Whyte 1906-1979” in Canadian Collector, May-June 1979, p. 25-26.

[4] Chrisopher Volpe. “A Legacy of Beauty: Paintings in the Boston School Tradition” in The Boston School Legacy. Portsmouth, NH: Blue Tree publishing. 2006. Text online at: 19-01-2018)

[5] January 2018)

[6] See (20 January 2018)

[7]. Jon Whyte. Pete ‘n’ Catharine, their Story, Banff: The Whyte Foundation, 1980, p. 26.

[8] Joan Murray, op. cit. p. 27.

[9] Jon Whyte, p. 29.

[10] This 1926 exhibition in Boston, included 13 paintings done in the Banff and Lake O’Hara area.

[11] Jon Whyte, p. 32.

[12] Jon Whyte, p. 46.