SPROULE, ROBERT AUCHMUTY, water-colourist, miniaturist, and drawing-master; b. in Athlone (Republic of Ireland), second son of Thomas Sproule and Marianne Ardesoif; m. 8 Oct. 1831 Jane Hopper in Montreal, and they had two sons and four daughters; d. 1845 in March Township, Upper Canada.
Robert Auchmuty Sproule came to Lower Canada in 1826 and settled in Montreal. On 30 September he put an advertisement in the Montreal Herald, announcing himself as a miniaturist who had studied with “the best Masters in London and Dublin.” In November 1829 he gave notice of his intention to bring out six views of Montreal, which did in fact appear the following year. Published by Adolphus Bourne*, they had been engraved on copperplate by William Satchwell Leney from Sproule’s water-colours. The series marked the beginning of a fruitful collaboration between Bourne and Sproule that lasted until 1834 and led to the introduction of lithography into the colony. Bourne went to London lithographer Charles Joseph Hullmandel in 1832 for the printing of a group of works by Sproule, including four views of Quebec and a portrait of Louis-Joseph Papineau*. He returned to Montreal with a lithographic press and subsequently used it for Sproule’s drawings. The results included the frontispiece for the Montreal Museum or Journal of Literature and Arts in December 1832, a portrait of Archbishop Bernard-Claude Panet*, one of St Francis Xavier, and a view of the steamer Great Britain, all three published in 1833, and a view of the church of Notre-Dame in Montreal printed in 1834. As well, Sproule transferred illustrations by Alexander Jamieson Russel and several others to stone for lithographing; they were printed by Bourne for Hawkins’s picture of Quebec; with historical recollections, a work by Alfred Hawkins* that came out at Quebec in 1834.
In Montreal Sproule also taught drawing, a common practice among miniaturists of the period. His frequent moves with his family after 1834, however, suggest that it was not possible for him to make a living there. He can be followed through his children’s births, rather than through his artistic activities, to Cornwall in Upper Canada around 1836, Williamstown around 1838, and finally the Bytown (Ottawa) region. In 1839 he was residing in Huntley, where his wife’s family had lived since 1836; his father had also been living near by at Richmond since 1820. In 1840 Sproule and his wife received two acres of land in March Township from her brother, Albert Hopper. Sproule apparently kept a store at March Corners for a while, and later another one at Stittsville. In June 1844 he again advertised himself as a miniaturist and drawing-master, but this time in Bytown. When he died in November or December of the following year, he was reported to have been living in March Township.
Robert Auchmuty Sproule’s name has lived on through his prints. The views of Montreal (copies of each edition and five of the original water-colours are held at the McCord Museum there) are said to make up the most handsome series published in Canada and to demonstrate the maturity achieved in pictorial printmaking during the first half of the 19th century. The other prints done by Sproule and Bourne were not always of the same quality as the Montreal and Quebec series, a quality attained partly through the collaboration of Leney, who was an excellent engraver, and Hullmandel. Except for one portrait of himself and another of his wife, Sproule’s work as a miniaturist remains little known.
[Alumni Dublinenses . . . , ed. G. D. Burtchaell and T. U. Sadleir (new ed., Dublin, 1935), 772, lists a Robert Sproule who was born c. 1799 and who studied at Trinity College; he is not the same person as the subject of this biography. p.b.l.]
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