WRIGHT, FANNY AMELIA (Bayfield), painter and teacher; b. 1813 or 1814 in Kensington (London), England, daughter of Charles Wright, re; m. 2 April 1838 Henry Wolsey Bayfield* in Quebec, and they had four sons and two daughters; d. 11 Sept. 1891 in Charlottetown at age 77.
Fanny Amelia Wright came to Lower Canada in 1833 when her father, a captain in the Royal Engineers, was posted to Quebec. Five years later she married Captain Bayfield, surveyor of the St Lawrence River and Gulf. Bayfield, in a letter to a friend, described his bride as “handsome, amiable, religious, and accomplished. She plays and sings English and Italian, draws extremely well.”
Fanny Bayfield lived at a time when amateur painters flourished and when many women played the piano, sang, and painted non-professionally. There is a tradition that she studied painting in England under one of Queen Victoria’s instructors, but it has not been confirmed. She may have received some instruction from her father, who, like many British officers stationed in British North America, painted local scenes. Probably she belonged to a sketching group that painted from nature and practised by copying paintings of other artists. She painted several watercolour scenes of Quebec, some of which resemble those of contemporary British military artists.
In 1841 Captain Bayfield transferred his hydrographic headquarters and his residence to Charlottetown. Fanny continued to paint, improving her technique and developing her own style. She gave lessons in painting, and perhaps also in music, to women there. Over the years she acquired a knowledge of wild flowers and painted them realistically in watercolours. A leather-bound album, “Canadian wild flowers,” was presented to the Public (National) Archives of Canada by a granddaughter of the artist. Among the 70 paintings in the album are depictions of flowers, mushrooms, and maple leaves in autumn. On a detached sheet is “Bloodroot, Dog’s Tooth Violet and Red Trillium,” a beautiful, natural-looking representation. Studies of butterflies, moths, and caterpillars complete the collection.
Because Fanny Bayfield did not sign her paintings there will always be a problem identifying her output. Works attributed to her after 1841 are held both privately and in public institutions in Charlottetown and Calgary. Among the many scenes of Charlottetown are paintings done in soft greens and earth colours that suggest, in the words of Moncrieff Williamson, “the placid tranquility” of the Island. In addition to works that can be identified with some certainty as being Fanny Bayfield’s, various collections hold several sketches and paintings, including copies of known works, that may be by her hand.
Fanny Bayfield’s paintings of wild flowers invite comparison with those of Nova Scotia’s Maria Frances Ann Miller [Morris*], noted for the scientific accuracy of her wild-flower paintings, and Agnes Dunbar Chamberlin [Moodie], who illustrated two books on Canadian flora by Catharine Parr Traill [Strickland]. Although Mrs Bayfield’s wild flowers look true to nature, she painted for her own interest and made no claim to the botanical accuracy that is attributed to the other two painters.
When Fanny Bayfield died the Daily Examiner paid tribute to her as a charitable woman “whose actions were governed by principle.” It said nothing of her art or her music.
Fanny Amelia Wright’s paintings are held both by private owners and in the following public collections: the Glenbow Museum (Calgary), the Documentary Art and Photography Division of the NA, and, in Charlottetown, the Confederation Centre Art Gallery and Museum and the P. E. I. Museum.
Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (Quebec), Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials, 2 April 1838. PRO, WO 25/3913: 56, 6081. UWOL, Regional Coll., John Harris papers, H. W. Bayfield to Amelia Harris, 17 April 1838. Daily Examiner (Charlottetown), 11 Sept. 1891. Daily Patriot (Charlottetown), 11 Sept. 1891. Quebec Mercury, 3 April 1838. Harper, Early painters and engravers. Roll of officers of the Corps of Royal Engineers from 1660 to 1898 . . . , ed. R. F. Edwards (Chatham, Eng., 1898), 20. Mary Allodi, Canadian watercolours and drawings in the Royal Ontario Museum (2v., Toronto, 1974), 2. W. M. E. Cooke, W. H. Coverdale Collection of Canadiana: paintings, watercolours and drawings (Manoir Richelieu collection) (Ottawa, 1983), 8. From Annapolis Royal to the Klondike: painters in a new land, comp. Michael Bell (Toronto, 1973), 127, 221. Image of Canada; documentary watercolours and drawings from the permanent collection of the Public Archives of Canada, [comp. Michael Bell] (Ottawa, 1972). Moncrieff Williamson, “Visual arts,” Canadian Collector, 8 (1973), no.1 [i.e. 2]: 50–52.