Born in Saint John, N.B., Frank Allison (1883-1951) studied painting under Wilfred Molson Barnes and Maurice Galbraith Cullen at the Art Association in Montreal; John F. Carlson, Woodstock, New York; George Elmer Browne in Europe. He worked for the Bank of Montreal in Saint John, and by 1906 had transferred to Ontario and Montreal. He traveled extensively and found his subjects in many countries. Toward the end of WWI, he was working for the Bank in London England and was closely associated with Canadian painter James Wilson Morrice. Although he painted a variety of subjects, he had a special interest in architecture and is perhaps best known for his watercolours.
Peter Larocque, Curator at the New Brunswick Museum has observed that Allison is remembered for his impressionist-inspired landscapes filled with light, mood and atmosphere, and his accomplished watercolours, which show his technical mastery of this very demanding medium.
Watercolour painting has always been appreciated by artists for its portability and in the 19th century in Europe, when landscape subjects were favoured by many artists, art exhibitions displayed comparable numbers of watercolours and oils. However, by the turn of the 20th century, this ratio changed so that the number of watercolours submitted for exhibitions declined rapidly. In 1925 when the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour formed, the medium received renewed interest, regaining some of the stature it had lost.
During the 1920s and 1930s, the Canadian art scene in central Canada was focused on the Group of Seven and the idea of a unique “Canadian” art. The Maritimes, however, held strong ties to New England and Great Britain, and so it was within this tradition that Allison found himself.
Allison exhibited with the Royal Canadian Academy exhibitions between 1915 and 1941; at Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Spring Shows between 1915 and 1939 and was a life member of the American Water Colour Society. Among his solo shows during his career was one for his watercolours at the T. Eaton Company Gallery in Montreal in November of 1933 when The Montreal Star critic noted, “Mr. Allison’s subjects are principally the streets and buildings of old towns and, more particularly, towns in the south of Europe. The pictures are mostly large watercolours, painted with much breadth and freedom, full of the gay colour and sunlight of places in Spain, Italy, southern France and Morocco.”
Allison’s art is represented in the collections of Mount Allison University, Sackville, N.B.; Y.W.C.A., Saint John, N.B.; New Brunswick Museum, Saint John; City of Saint John, N.B.; Milliken University, Decatur, IL.; Decatur Inst. of Civic Art; Art Inst., Springfield, IL.; and many private collections. His niece, Mrs. Doreen (Allison) Tuomola of Toronto has kindly loaned her collection for this exhibition.