Frederick S. Coburn, self-portrait, 1901
Born in Upper Melbourne, Quebec in 1871, Frederick Simpson Coburn was an illustrator, a painter and a print maker. In 1887–1888, Frederick Simpson Coburn RCA studied at the Conseil des arts et manufactures in Montreal and went to the Carl Hecker School of Art in New York City. The following year, he went to Germany, where he enrolled at the Berlin Academy. In 1892, he was to be found in Paris taking courses at the École des Beaux-Arts in Gérôme’s studio. In the years that followed, Coburn studied in London, in Belgium and travelled a great deal in Europe. While abroad, he not only mastered a variety of art techniques, he also became fluent in the French, German, Dutch and Flemish languages. His frequent trips back home enabled him to maintain a close connection with Quebec. It was in Antwerp that he met his future wife, the talented Belgian artist, Malvina Scheepers. Together, they established a studio-home in Coburn's village of Upper Melbourne and a pied-à-terre in Montreal.His drawings appeared regularly in American magazines, and he illustrated many works by American, English and Canadian authors for G.P. Putman Publishing of New York. In the 1910s, he quickly developed a reputation for his winter landscapes, and his level of success was unprecedented for a Canadian artist.
He died in Upper Melbourne in 1960.
Frederick Simpson Coburn's paintings of horses hauling logs through snowy woodlands, and bright red sleighs down sunny country roads captured the spirit of an era. Since the late1920s his winter scenes have appeared regularly on Christmas cards.
The term 'Coburn sky' originated from the artist's unique treatment of luminous winter cloud effects. During the the early 1900s, Coburn began to integrate the advanced techniques he had learned from the Europeans with his own vision. At first he focused on floral studies, portraits, and spring and summer landscapes of the Eastern Townships. In these canvases the Dutch influence was obvious. Then, sketching trips with fellow artist, mentor and close friend, Maurice Cullen, brought about a sudden change. Inspired and challenged by Cullen's fascination with the Canadian winter, Coburn rejected his sombre, Old-World palette to experiment with vivid colours.
His paintings hung in galleries across the country and in museums and private collections as far away as Australia and Japan.
Source: Canadian Art, volume one/A-F, Catalogue of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 1988, Virtual Museum of Canada and www.fscoburn.com