Goodridge Roberts was born in 1904 in Barbados, where his Canadian parents were temporarily settled. Roberts was truly one of Canada’s most prolific artists, leaving behind over three thousand extraordinary oil paintings and watercolours. As a child he lived mainly in Fredericton, New Brunswick, but also in England, France, and for about two years after the war in Ottawa.
After two years studying art at the École des Beaux-Arts in Montreal, he went to New York and enrolled in the Art Students League. Through exposure to the French modernists in New York, Roberts’ traditional Canadian landscapes met a more modern sensibility, creating an important dichotomy that would shape his works for years to come.
Roberts moved back to Canada and opened an art school in a farmhouse near Wakefield, Quebec, which led him to hold his first one-man exhibition at the Arts Club in Montreal. His tentative, Cézanne-influenced landscape watercolours there caught the eye of an important art patron, Cleveland Morgan, who introduced him to his cousin John Lyman. Both Lyman and Morgan believed in Roberts’ potential and included him in the Montreal exhibitions that were affiliated with Lyman’s Contemporary Arts Society.
It was not until the late 1930s that Roberts began to see more remuneration for his paintings. After a period of producing mainly nudes in the late 1930s, Roberts began to be drawn towards landscape painting, developing a style that had the contemporary influences of Lyman’s group of painters, yet maintained his identifiable unornamented delicacy.
Renowned for his innovative style, Roberts constantly sought to find the fine balance between traditional Canadian landscape art and the modern movements that were beginning to take shape in Quebec. In his best works, the artist builds his artistic language around this paradox. Through a sumptuous and complex style that was all his own, Roberts managed, arguably better than any other artist of his generation, to express the dichotomy that existed between landscape art and modernity.