Charles Comfort

Charles Comfort

The Varley Tree 1963
Oil on panel
12 x 16 inches


Charles Comfort, OC 1900 – 1994 Canadian painter, sculptor, teacher, writer and administrator. Born near Edinburgh, Scotland, Comfort moved to Winnipeg in 1912 with his family. His father found work with the treasury department for the city of Winnipeg. Comfort as the eldest child had to work from a young age to help support his family. The following year he began work as a commercial artist at Bridgens Studio in Winnipeg, and by 1916 Comfort started attending evening classes at the Winnipeg School of Art.

Comfort saved money to attend the Art Students League of New York under Robert Henri and Euphrasius Tucker. Still working part-time for Brigdens commercial studio, he was temporarily transferred to Toronto in 1919. While in Toronto, Comfort joined the Arts and Letters Club, taking life-study classes and meeting members of the Group of Seven. Comfort visited the Groups inaugural 1920 exhibition, which inspired Comfort to work on landscape paintings, a theme he continued throughout his lifetime.

Comfort returned to Winnipeg in 1922 for his first exhibition of watercolours at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. During this time, he met LeMoine Fitzgerald and Walter J. Phillips. It was not until 1925 that Comfort painted his first oil painting, when he returned to Toronto where he befriended Will Ogilvie, who may have influenced this switch to oil. In 1928 he painted a striking watercolour portrait of violinist Alexander Chuhaldin with his Amati violin, with a copy of the Natalia Goncharova set design for Le Coq d’Or in the background (painting now in the Art Gallery of Hamilton). In the 1930s, Comfort regularly worked as a commercial illustrator as well as a teacher at the Ontario College of Art and Design from 1935-1938. He subsequently held by a teaching position at the University of Toronto, a post he continued after the war until 1960. He taught primarily painting techniques, including mural-painting, and other studio courses later in his career at the university. He was commissioned to design a mural for Torontos North American Life Building in 1932, the first in many he completed. The following year he met the American Precisionist Charles Sheeler. One of the artists most celebrated works, Tadoussac of 1935, suggests the influence of Sheeler due to its clear crisp colours and shapes. In 1936, Comfort rented a studio next to a room occupied by A. Y. Jackson, in the Studio Building, a warehouse made famous by the Group of Seven artists, and the following year he designed the frieze for the Toronto Stock Exchange. Comfort helped initiate Canadas WWII War Art program and served as an official war artist in World War II, leaving an important body of work that records Canada’s war effort abroad. He was one of the organizers of the 1941 Kingston Conference, a meeting of Canadian artists to discuss the role of art in society as well as other issues facing the arts at the time. Furthermore, he was a founding member of the Federation of Canadian Artists and contributed to the 1951 Massey Report, which lead to the founding of the Canada Council. an organization that Comfort helped establish.

After the war, Comfort served on the Board of Directors and various committees at the Art Gallery of Toronto, and was Director of the National Gallery of Canada from 1959 until 1965. He was also a founding member of the Canadian Society of Graphic Art, Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour, and Canadian Group of Painters, and held executive positions in a number of art organizations. He received an honorary doctorate from Mount Allison University in 1958. His extensive involvement during his life with artist’s organizations indicates his strong belief in the importance of art integrated within society. In 1972, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

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