A brief history of CSPWC

CSPWC meeting in the Library of the Grange Toronto c.1932. Left-to-right - Joachim Gauthier, Franklin Carmichael, A.J.Casson, Thomas W. MacLean, and Conyers Barker - Photograph by Charles Comfort
CSPWC meeting in the Library of the Grange, Toronto c. 1932.
Left to right: Joachim Gauthier, Franklin Carmichael, A.J.Casson, Thomas W. MacLean and Conyers Barker.
Photograph by Charles Comfort.

How it All Started

Following the Remembrance Day ceremony on November 11, 1925, a group of artists met in the library of the Arts and Letters Club, a popular gathering place for practitioners in all the arts in Toronto. At that meeting 12 major Canadian talents, all passionately committed to the importance of watercolour as a medium, founded the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour.

The founding artists were: F.H. Brigden, A.J. Casson, Franklin Carmichael, C.W. Jefferys, Fred S. Haines, L.A.C. Panton, R.F. Gagen, Thomas G. Greene, Robert Holmes, Franz Johnston, Andre Lapine, and E.J. Sampson. Their aim was to recognize, encourage and nurture excellence of work in the medium of watercolour.

The Early Heady Years

By 1926 there were 26 members and an important connection had been made with the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the Art Gallery of Ontario). The annual exhibitions became a regular feature of the gallery’s programme.

“Much of the work is free and bold…It is obvious that the younger men are not afraid to experiment. ”

– Mail & Empire, 1927

In 1932 the Art Gallery of Canada (now the National Gallery) began to promote the exhibitions of the CSPWC and over the years assisted us in organizing exchange exhibitions in the USA, Great Britain, Brazil, France and New Zealand.

The CSPWC Reaches Out to New Artists

The annual exhibitions became truly open rather than invitational in 1949.

“What is especially interesting about the 22nd Annual Exhibition…at the Art Gallery is the number of unfamiliar signatures to be found along with those of such experienced practitioners as Brigden, Comfort, Schaefer.”

–  Toronto Telegram, 1949

The Difficult Years

The links with large, prestigious galleries continued until the mid 1950’s when new policies favouring in-house curated exhibitions became the norm. The 33rd annual juried exhibition in 1958 was the last major exhibition held at the Art Gallery of Toronto. Connections with major institutions had helped us to educate the public about watercolour, and had stimulated artists to produce exceptional work. Now the CSPWC had to find new venues for its exhibitions. The annual exhibitions moved out into smaller communities and galleries across the country from Kamloops to Winnipeg to St. Johns. This was hard work, but it had the positive effect of starting the society on the long road to becoming a truly national organization.

36 nightmares! Medicine Hat News 1954

“…disturbing perhaps for the conservative taste, but stimulating for those willing to investigate and enjoy new methods of expression.”

– Vancouver Province, 1954

Watercolour on the Rise Again

For our 50th anniversary in 1975, the Art Gallery of Ontario agreed to curate a show of watercolours, some of which toured to Canada House in England. The annual juried exhibition was held in London, Ontario, and in the following year a major exchange exhibition with Japan took place. In the early 80’s the Society put itself on a more solid administrative footing by sharing office space with Visual Arts Ontario and hiring a paid part time secretary. The 60th anniversary in 1985 was a huge celebration highlighted by the Hot Water Colour show at Toronto’s Harbourfront and the acceptance by Her Majesty, the Queen of 60 paintings into the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle.

Huge Leaps Forward

In the late 80’s the CSPWC joined with five other societies to manage the John B. Aird Gallery, at 900 Bay St. in Toronto. This gave the Society the guarantee of one major exhibition slot each year and many of the annual open juried exhibitions since then have been held at this venue. A resurgence of interest in watercolour painting in the 90’s and our determined efforts to reach out to artists across the country through the creation of Regional Directors and the organization of a series of symposiums, meant that during an economically difficult period, when many arts organizations struggled, the CSPWC grew, expanding both its membership and its activities. In the late 90’s the Society spent two years actively debating the merits of transparent watercolour versus water based media, a debate that has periodically taken place since 1925. This time the members defined terms and set down guidelines for exhibitions, which would encourage experimentation while honouring the transparent tradition.

Seventy Five Years!

There was a lot to celebrate on our 75th anniversary in 2000 and we did it with an unprecedented number of exhibitions. In 2002 a major review of the by-laws initiated changes in the method of electing members. Reflecting the growing number of members across the country, new members are now elected by a national membership committee from portfolios of digital images.

And Still Growing

The CSPWC now has over 265 elected members and a similar number of associates. From 2001-03 we operated the CSPWC Gallery @Wallace Studios showcasing the work of members and associates.

Currently our office is at 80 Birmingham Street, B3, Toronto, ON M8V 3W6.

“A History of the first 60 Years” by Rebecca Sisler
“A History of the first 60 Years” by Rebecca Sisler
1st Annual Exhibition Catalogue, 1926
1st Annual Exhibition Catalogue, 1926
27th Annual Exhibition Catalogue, 1953
27th Annual Exhibition Catalogue, 1953
48th Annual Exhibition Catalogue, 1972
48th Annual Exhibition Catalogue, 1972