Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

JEFFERYS, CHARLES W. (1869–1951)

Born in Rochester, England, on August 25, 1869, Charles William Jefferys immigrated with his family to Philadelphia in 1875. He moved to Canada in 1878 and settled in Toronto three years later. He took evening classes at the Ontario School of Art and Design (now known as the Ontario College of Art and Design), had a five-year apprenticeship with the Toronto Lithographic Company, and received art lessons from accomplished Canadian painter George A. Reid. Under the instruction of C. M. Manly of the newly formed Toronto Art Students League, which he joined in 1888, Jefferys gained fundamentals and sound practices that were the foundation of his work throughout his life. He became Canada's earliest and most influential historical illustrator and muralist.

When Jefferys first journeyed to the Prairie Provinces, the vastness and simple beauty of the landscape shattered his stifling commitment to detail, a commitment engendered by his career as a reportage illustrator and spare time spent capturing the rugged yet intricate details of the Ontario landscape. Jefferys's first Prairie visit marked the beginning of a prolific and creative episode in his artistic life.

During the early 1900s Jefferys journeyed across Canada as an official illustrator for numerous Canadian magazines, playing a key role in recording the development of the West. When he first arrived in the southern regions of Saskatchewan and Alberta Jefferys was awestruck by the wide-open spaces and expansive skies. The subtle but complex palette of prairie colors offered artistic opportunities that rivaled other rocky outcroppings of the Canadian Shield.

His first Prairie painting, Afternoon in the Wheat Fields (1906), was completed during a visit to Portage-La-Prairie in northwestern Winnipeg, Manitoba. This work inspired his first large oil painting, entitled Wheat Stacks on the Prairie (1907), and both are examples of his exploration of this newly discovered and rich palette. Also from this period and in this vein are Western Sunlight (Last Mountain Lake) and A Storm on the Prairie (Allegro Maestoso), both from 1911. The latter two oils mark the artist's maturation in this subject matter.

A pioneer in Canadian landscape painting, Jefferys inspired the Group of Seven and their followers through his support of native Canadian subject matter. He died in Toronto on October 8, 1951.

Suzanne Hepburn Trianon Gallery

Brown, Craig. The Illustrated History of Canada. Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1997.

Reid, Dennis. A Concise History of Canadian Painting. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1973.

Stacey, Robert H. C. W. Jefferys. Ottawa: National Gallery/National Museums of Canada, 1985.

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