Born in Galt, Ontario (presently Cambridge), Florence Carlyle moved with her family to Woodstock in 1871. All her siblings had artistic talent, and Carlyle herself was gifted in visual arts and music from a young age. After demonstrating significant skill in drawing heads and faces, she attended her first art lessons around 1874 under William Lees Judson from London who had been recruited by her mother to teach children’s art classes.
All the children in the Carlyle household were educated at the local Canadian Literary Institute (renamed Woodstock College). Carlyle herself attended from 1878 to 1886 and, in her last year, studied portraiture and painting under Ida Joy. By 1883, Carlyle had participated in many local art fairs and competitions and entered numerous paintings in the Ladies Department of the Toronto Industrial Exhibition (presently the Canadian National Exhibition). There, Princess Louise Caroline Alberta purchased a painting of water-lilies from Carlyle which boosted her popularity. Afterwards, Carlyle returned to her studies in Woodstock and obtained her Teacher’s Certificate from the Ministry of Education in 1885. She also began travelling across Ontario teaching art.
In 1888, Carlyle had determined she was ready to go to abroad, having exhausted the resources available to her in Ontario. Paul Peel, another of Judson’s pupils, was well known in London and the surrounding region. In 1890, Peel returned to London from Paris and he and Carlyle renewed their acquaintance at a meeting of the Western Art League. Peel likely recognized Carlyle’s talent and spoke to her about his training which fueled her ambition to study abroad. Combining her own savings with gifts from her brother and mother, Carlyle left for Paris in October 1890 with Peel and his sister, Mildred. During her six years abroad, she studied under Tony Robert-Fleury, Jules Lefebvre, and Adolphe Bouguereau. She spent two summers painting at the Barbizon. Carlyle returned to Canada in May 1896 and established studios in London and Woodstock.
Beginning in the winter of her return from Europe, Carlyle started to teach art classes at the Masonic Temple, Richmond Street, in London, Ontario until around 1903. Peel and Judson both exhibited widely and influenced Carlyle to expand her exhibiting opportunities to gain greater exposure and potential sales. In May 1897, Carlyle began exhibiting work at the Women’s Art Club of London’s Annual Spring Exhibition and Art Loan.
Since female artists at the time could not pursue an art career after marriage, Carlyle chose to remain single and worked diligently to make a living wage as a professional artist. She often produced small landscapes to sell during her travels, taught art classes and designed illustrations for magazines and calendars. The money she gained from her commercial art practice supported her in her more traditional work as a painter.
Working in both oil and watercolour, Carlyle developed a signature style of figures, interiors, and landscapes. She would often use family members or friends for her portraits and was often commended on her ability to convey the personality of the sitter. Carlyle painted mountains during the summer of 1897 with the Canadian Alpine Club in British Columbia. In 1899, she moved to New York City where a purchase prize led the American Osborne Calendar company to commission her for twelve pictures a year for a remarkable salary of $5,000.
In 1913, Carlyle moved into a small cottage in Sussex with Judith Hastings, whom she had met in the spring of 1911. During the war, Carlyle worked in hospitals and served in the Women’s Land Army. She also sold her paintings to aid the Red Cross. In the spring of 1918, Carlyle was commissioned by the Canadian War Memorials Fund committee to paint a portrait of Lady Julia Drummond, head of the Canadian Red Cross information bureau. Carlyle continued to paint during the war and had begun to work on short stories in 1920 that she hoped to have published. As the war continued, limited art supplies and Carlyle’s worsening eyesight constrained her painting production. She increasingly focused on smaller still life and flower paintings during this time.
In autumn of 1922, Carlyle returned to Canada at the age of fifty-eight. She contacted her dealer, O.B. Graves in London, Ontario to discuss selling some of her older paintings. Her health was deteriorating and she wanted to negotiate the sale of her work relatively quickly. In winter of that year, she returned to England. In February, after experiencing consistent stomach problems, she had surgery to remove a tumor in her abdomen. Hastings was told by surgeons that very little could be done for Carlyle, but Carlyle herself was never informed of the severity of her condition. On May 2, 1923, at her cottage in Crowborough, Carlyle died in her sleep from stomach cancer. She was buried in a nearby cemetery. Carlyle’s story, Mary’s Child, was published seven months after her death. A 1925 memorial exhibition and sale of 86 works took place at the Jenkins Gallery in Toronto.
Carlyle was one of the first women elected an Associate of the Royal Canadian Academy in 1897, and was re-elected in 1912. She was also a member of the Ontario Society of Artists (1896-1906). She received numerous accolades including an Honourable Mention at the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, 1901, the Ontario Society of Artist’s Prize in 1902, and a Silver Medal at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. She was named to Oxford County’s Hall of Fame in 1984. Her work can be found in various collections including at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Government of Ontario Art Collection, the National Gallery of Canada, and Woodstock Art Gallery.
Biography by Victoria Stopar
Benedict, Ben. “Inventive Women: Re-Interpreting the Canadian Landscape.” Woodstock, Ontario: Woodstock Art Gallery, 2013. Exhibition media release.
Bultin, Susan. “Florence Carlyle: A Canadian in Paris 1890-1896.” Florence Carlyle. Woodstock, Ontario: Woodstock Art Gallery, 1993. Exhibition catalogue.
Butlin, Susan. The Practice of Her Profession: Florence Carlyle, Canadian Painter in the Age of Impressionism. Montreal, Ontario: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009.
Feindel, Susan. The Image of Man in Canadian Painting: 1878-1978. London, Ontario: McIntosh Gallery, Western University, 1978. Exhibition catalogue.
Grosland, Roberta. Florence Carlyle (1864-1923). Woodstock, Ontario: Woodstock Art Gallery. Exhibition catalogue.
MacDonald, Colin S. “Carlyle, Florence.” A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, 3rd ed. I, (A-F). Ottawa, Ontario: Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd., 1977.
Murray, Joan. Florence Carlyle: Against All Odds. London, Ontario: Museum London, 2004. Exhibition catalogue.
Poole, Nancy Geddes. The Art of London, 1830-1980. London, Ontario: Blackpool Press, 1984.
See also: Eva Bradshaw; Caroline Farncomb; Dorothy (Betts) Seely-Smith; Mildred Peel
Click here for information about works by Florence Carlyle
in McIntosh Gallery’s collection.