SOMERVILLE (Sommerville), MARTIN, painter, art teacher, and illustrator; b. in 1796 or 1797; d. 31 May 1856 at Quebec.
Martin Somerville, an immigrant from England, was painting in the Canadas by 1839. He may also have exhibited miniatures and water-colours in New York City in 1841. From 1845 to 1855 he occupied a studio at 25 Rue Saint-Jacques, Montreal. Cornelius Krieghoff* rented a studio in the same building about 1846 and the two artists obviously influenced each other, particularly in their choice of subject-matter. Somerville’s best-known oil paintings depict Indians, principally men on snow-shoes and young women selling moccasins. These, and other canvasses of gentlemen driving horses and tandem sleighs on the frozen St Lawrence River, are similar to works painted by Krieghoff. Several Somerville paintings have had forged “C. Krieghoff” signatures added to them; they differ from Krieghoff’s works in their accent on linear draftsmanship and low-keyed colour harmonies.
In 1845 Somerville advertised in the Montreal Gazette as a “Professor of Painting” and he established classes in painting “Historical Subjects, Landscapes, Flowers &c. in Oil and Water Colours.” He was an instructor in free-hand and perspective drawing at Miss Plimsoll’s school for young ladies in Montreal, where Krieghoff became instructor in painting from 1847 to 1849. In January 1847 Somerville exhibited as a member of the Montreal Society of Artists, the city’s first professional artists’ association. His 21 contributions, including water-colours, sketches of Greek landscapes with ruins in the picturesque style, paintings of flowers, and copies of landscapes by the English artist James Duffield Harding, indicate that he was a prolific artist. Drawings of Indians and local Montreal views appeared in the Illustrated London News during 1849 and 1850. Me-nifs-i-no-wen-in-ne, the great warrior, a pencil drawing of an Indian chief, demonstrates his precise technical excellence.
Somerville may also have had a home or studio at Quebec; he was listed as a resident during 1854–55 and died there in 1856 at the age of 59. Because Somerville’s work has not been thoroughly studied and few details are known of his personal life, he remains a shadowy figure in Canadian art.
The Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto), Canadiana Dept., Sigmund Samuel Coll., holds the drawing of Me-nifs-i-no-wen-in-ne, the great warrior by Martin Somerville. The work, which is described in Mary Allodi, Canadian watercolours and drawings in the Royal Ontario Museum (2v., Toronto, 1974), was published along with others by Somerville in Illustrated London News, 19 May, 15 Sept. 1849; 21 Dec. 1850.
ANQ-Q, CE1-61, 2 juin 1856. Montreal Gazette, 10 Oct. 1845, 15 Jan. 1847. Pilot (Montreal), 29 Jan. 1847. C. P. De Volpi and P. S. Winkworth, Montreal; a pictorial record . . . 1535–1885 (2v., Montreal, 1963). G. C. Groce and D. H. Wallace, The New York Historical Society’s dictionary of artists in America, 1564–1860 (New Haven, Conn., and London, 1957; repr., 1964). Harper, Early painters and engravers. Montreal directory, 1845–55. Quebec directory, 1854–55. Le peintre et le Nouveau Monde (Montréal, 1967). Gérard Morisset, La peinture traditionnelle au Canada français (Ottawa, 1960). W. A. Craick, “Letters; Cornelius Kreighoff,” Atlantic Advocate (Fredericton), 53 (1962–63), no.5: 11.