Arthur Lismer's Dalhousie sketches

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Arthur Lismer's Dalhousie sketches

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  • Graphic material

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Arthur Lismer

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Issuing jurisdiction and denomination (philatelic)

Dates of creation area


  • [ca. 1919] (Creation)

Physical description area

Physical description

41 drawings
22 prints

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Archival description area

Name of creator

(1885 - 1969)

Biographical history

Arthur Lismer was born 27 June 1885 in Sheffield, England. He was apprenticed to a photo-engraving company at the age of thirteen, and started evening classes at the Sheffield School of Arts at the same time. In 1905 he moved to Antwerp to continue his education at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts.

In 1911 Lismer immigrated to Toronto, where he was employed first at the commercial art firm Grip Limited, and later at Rous & Mann. It was during this period that he met fellow artists J.E.H. MacDonald, F.H. Johnston, Franklin Carmichael and Tom Thomson.

Lismer moved with his wife, Esther, and young daughter, Marjorie, to Nova Scotia in 1916, where for three years he served as principal of the Victoria School of Art and Design in Halifax. During this period he sketched and painted images of naval activity in and around Halifax Harbour, and in June 1918 was commissioned by the Canadian War Records, for which he produced a series of sixteen lithographs. He also created a number of drawings chronicling the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion, which were published in the Canadian Courier newspaper and in The Drama of a City: The Story of Stricken Halifax (1918).

In 1919 Lismer was commissioned by the Dalhousie Centenary Committee to produce a series of sketches to illustrate the committee’s centennial commemoration publication, One Hundred Years of Dalhousie, 1818–1918 (1920), some of which were also reproduced in a promotional booklet published to advance the university’s 1920 "Millions Campaign” appeal.

Before the end of 1919 Lismer returned to Toronto to take up the post of vice-principal of the Ontario College of Art, and several years later became a charter member of the Group of Seven. In 1927 he was appointed supervisor of art education at the Art Gallery of Toronto and emerged as a leading figure in art education in Canada. From 1940–1967 he taught at the Art Association of Montreal.

Arthur Lismer died on 23 March 1969.

Custodial history

Records were donated to the Dalhousie University Archives in February 2017, prompted by enquiries by Alan Ruffman, who linked their probable existence within the Archives to the 1920 publications, but also to a 1982 Arthur Lismer exhibit at Dalhousie University Art Gallery, curated by Gemey Kelly, in which two of the sketches appeared, and to reproductions of some of the images in D.C. Harvey, A Introduction to the History of Dalhousie University (1938) and P.B. Waite, Lives of Dalhousie, Volume One, 1880-1925 (1994).

Scope and content

Collection includes 41 original pen and ink drawings by Arthur Lismer commissioned ca. 1919 by Dalhousie's Centenary Committee to illustrate its history of the university's first century, One Hundred Years of Dalhousie, 1818–1918, which was published in 1920. The collection includes the original and some unfinished and/or unpublished versions of all but one of the 26 illustrations used in the book, which features historic and contemporary Dalhousie figures and buildings. There are several portraits of President Arthur Stanley Mackenzie, which were rejected in favour of publishing a photographic image, as well as a rough sketch of Lismer's daughter, Marjorie. Also included in the collection are 22 reproductions, which are probably printer's proofs, given the poor quality of the paper.

Twelve of the Lismer images were also reproduced in the booklet titled simply Dalhousie University, which was produced by the Dalhousie Million Committee as part of the promotional literature supporting the university's 1920 Million Dollar Campaign and published shortly after the Centenary Committee's book.

There is little documentary evidence beyond these two publications regarding the precise date or other details of the Lismer commission; one of the drawings is marked "1 March 1920," and another "27 March 1920," on date-received stamps from the engraving department of Rous & Mann, the Toronto company that printed both publications. The existing archival correspondence between the university and the printer (UA-3, Box 621, Folder 6) is from the Million Committee file, and refers only peripherally to the Centenary Committee's book project. A letter dated 24 March 1920 from Rous & Mann advises that the cuts, or illustrations, proposed for use in the campaign booklet were "at present locked up for the printing of the other Book in course of preparation," while later correspondence indicates that the printing and delivery of the campaign booklet gained precedence over the commemorative history, and the first run of these booklets was shipped on 17 April. The history was printed shortly after that, although by 26 May it had already been reprinted, owing to the misspelling of George Stewart Campbell, whose middle name appears in the first printing as "Stuart." The existence of the misprinted copies is due to their purchase at a steep discount by the Million Committee, who wrote: "... if the price were attractive a way might be found to use them."

No correspondence or documents have been found in the Dalhousie University Archives regarding Lismer's actual commission: within the Million Committee's correspondence file exists a single telegram from President Mackenzie to Arthur Lismer, dated 3 April 1920, which expresses a need to rush the printing along with the instruction: "leave layout to your judgement," the sole reference to Lismer's role in either project.

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Physical condition

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Collection has been arranged or numbered sequentially in the order that the images appear in One Hundred Years of Dalhousie, 1818–1918 (1920), with the individual items remaining grouped according to their original placement in the folders in which they were found.

Language of material

  • English

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Location of originals

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Restrictions on access

There are no access restrictions on these materials. All materials are open for research.

Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

Materials do not circulate and must be used in the Dalhousie University Archives and Special Collections Reading Room. Materials may be under copyright. Contact departmental staff for guidance on reproduction.

Finding aids

Associated materials

Related records include the publications One Hundred Years of Dalhousie, 1918–1918 (MS-1-Ref, Box 26, Folder 15) and Dalhousie University (MS-1-Ref, Box 27, Folder 27), and Dalhousie Million Campaign Committee correspondence with printers (UA-3, Box 621, Folder 6 ).

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Description comes from the Dalhousie University Archives Catalog. The complete, original description is available there.

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