image description


John O’Brien, Saint John, New Brunswick, 1831 – 1891, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Although noted as being born in New Brunswick, artist John O’Brien was actually born off-shore Nova Scotia when his parents were emigrating from Ireland. He lived in Halifax during years which saw both the peak in shipbuilding activity and the industry’s later decline.

The artist’s attention to proportion and fine detail gives splendid technical drawings of nearly all types of vessels of the period. His work was so well-liked locally that Halifax merchants raised enough money to send him abroad to study painting and he became Canada’s first professional marine artist.

This is perhaps one of O’Brien’s finest surviving paintings and reveals his superb command of graduated space and diffused light. Unfortunately O’Brien suffered eye damage from exposure to mercury fumes while working in a photography studio, which curtailed his innate talent. While he continued painting, the later works lack the exemplary technical and aesthetic command richly demonstrated in this painting.

Gift of Judith A. and Alex W. Doyle, Sidney, British Columbia, 1999

Stay up to date with the AGNS newsletter