Joseph E. Sampson

Joseph Ernest Sampson, Unitled, Serigraph, 1984.01.18

Joseph E. Sampson, 1887-1946

Born: Liverpool, England, 1887

Died: 1946

The Sampson-Matthews print program was the largest public art project in Canadian history.  Launched at the start of the Second World War, it lasted twenty-two years and cost tens of millions of dollars in today’s currency.  At its height, it employed many of the country’s best commercial painters, designers and artists, working full-time to create masterpieces of serigraphy.

Born in Liverpool, England, Canadian artist Joseph Ernest Sampson was the eldest son of William Sampson, a superintendent engineer of Canadian Pacific Steamships. He received his early education at the Liverpool Institute and later at the Liverpool School of Art, winning many honours, including the South Kensington Medal and Scholarship for figure painting.

He came to Canada in 1909, before once again receiving praise while at the Académie Julien in Paris, the Grand Chaumière, and Colarossi Academies. Returning to Toronto in 1913, Sampson became the Art Director at Stone Limited (later Rolph, Clark, Stone). It was there that he met Charles Matthews, with whom he formed Colour-Craft Sampson-Matthews Limited (later Sampson-Matthews Ltd.) in 1918.

Sampson was the senior partner and President of Sampson-Matthews Limited, which produced Canadian artists’ scenes of Canada in association with the National Gallery of Canada, among other projects. Art works were reproduced using the silkscreen process and sent to bases, hostels, and offices of the Canadian forces at home and abroad during World War II, and were later made available for purchase by the public.

Joseph Sampson’s maritime scene ‘Veterans of the Sea’ was one of the 89 works reproduced for this series, as was his work ‘Mending Nets’. In his own work, Sampson became known for his portraits, figures and landscapes depicted using both watercolour and oils.

He painted various pictures for the Canadian War Records and War Savings Drives, including a portrait of Lieutenant General G.L. McNaughton and ‘Armistice Day Toronto’. He painted portraits of the Speakers of the Ontario Legislature, the Honourable Norman Otto Hipel and the Honourable James Howard Clark.

In ‘Gaspé’, a vibrant landscape reminiscent of Fortin, Sampson places us near a small village with a grand view across a large lake to the distant hills. The upward thrust of the hills is mirrored by that of the clouds, and in the same hues of blue and green. One can feel the power and beauty of the landscape intruded upon only by a few simple structures.

In ‘Veterans of the Sea’, Sampson combines the figurative with the landscape, portraying a small East coast fishing village, typical of Nova Scotia or Newfoundland. The fishing shacks merge with the cottages on the shoreline, where the men take some time to congregate and prepare their nets for the next day, or whittle away on a piece of wood. One can almost smell the salt air tinged with that of the day’s catch.

Sampson was a member of the Ontario Society of Artists, the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour, the Arts and Letters Club in Toronto, and an Associate of the Royal Canadian Academy. His work is represented in public institutions including the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Government of Ontario Art Collection and the Canadian War Museum.