Ralph W. Burton

Ottawa Valley painter Ralph W. Burton was born in Newington, Ontario, in 1905 and died in Ottawa in 1983. Initiated to painting at an early age, he first took classes with a Paris-trained artist for three years and then, studied art professionally in Ottawa. In 1940, he enrolled in the Royal Canadian Air Force but kept on painting. While based in Western Canada, he attended the Banff School of Fine Arts under A. Y. Jackson, a member of the Group of Seven. Beside becoming his lifelong friend with whom he did several sketching trips across Canada, Jackson had a strong influence on him, raising his art to another level: flowing brush stroke, undulating landscapes, disappearance of straight and flat lines, new colours such as soft pinks and oranges. Burton painted throughout Eastern Ontario, Alaska, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Portland, Maine. He sketched with oils on board which he later reproduced on larger canvas. Often considered a landscape painter, Burton also liked to depict urban scenes. One of his main works is undoubtedly his LeBreton Flats series, an industrial and working-class neighbourhood located in Ottawa’s west end. Made aware of its coming demolition by the federal government, Burton took care to immortalize the final months of the neighbourhood with a series of small oil sketches. And while giving them his personal artistic touch, he did not leave out any architectural detail, leaving to history a loyal testimony to a neighbourhood whose poor inhabitants had been expropriated.

Regarded as a skilled art teacher by his students, Burton was also renowned for his love of colour, his assured draughtsmanship and his powerful observation. His artworks depict the rough beauty of Canadian landscapes as well as the tenacity of man-made structures set in rugged natural and urban environments, particularly in the Ottawa Valley region. They are part of private and public collections including the Ottawa Art Gallery, the Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery, the Dawson City Museum, the Historical Society and the Canadian Embassy in Washington D.C. As for his LeBreton Flats series, more than 30 of his paintings are displayed in the hallways of Ottawa City Hall.

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18 July 2018


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