AFA Art House

Nicholas de Grandmaison
Date: 1892 - 1978
Nicholas de Grandmaison
Birth Place: RUSSIA
Biography: Nicholas de Grandmaison was born in Russia in 1892 into a French and Russian family of noble descent. He was educated in Moscow where he studied art, music, languages and history and entered the military at the age of nineteen. During the First World War, he was captured as a soldier in the Imperial Army and spent four years in a German prisoner of war camp where he took up art to break the monotony of confinement. After the war, de Grandmaison went to England where he studied at St. John’s Wood School of Art in London and began doing portrait commissions. He studied for a time in Paris and, in 1923, moved to Canada. There he worked for a while in Winnipeg at a printing and engraving firm, and also continued doing portraits, mainly of children. De Grandmaison travelled to The Pas in northern Manitoba in 1930 where he became fascinated by the First Nations people that he encountered there. He began the series of portraits of Aboriginal subjects that would become a life-long passion and he subsequently went west into Alberta where he encountered Blackfoot, Sarcee, Peigan, Stoney, and Blood Tribes. Eventually he even travelled to the Queen Charlotte Islands and south into the deserts of the Southwestern United States in search of portrait subjects. He favoured pastel over oil paint and, rather than expressing his impressions of his subjects through narrative compositions, continued to do portraits, believing that the nature and nobility of the First Nations peoples would be best expressed in the features of their faces. In 1940, de Grandmaison moved with his family to Banff and in 1942 he was elected into the Royal Canadian Academy. In 1959, he was inducted as an honorary member of the Peigan Nation and was awarded The Order of Canada in 1972. Upon his death in Calgary in 1978, Nicholas de Grandmaison was buried in the Peigan Reserve where he had been made an Honorary Chief and given the name “Enuk-sapop” or Little Plume.
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