Charlotte Mount Brock Schreiber (1834–1922) was an English-Canadian painter and illustrator, considered among the first and finest of Canada’s female painters. Born in Colchester, Essex, England, she was the daughter of an Anglican clergyman, Rev. Robert Price Morrell, lover of art, who encouraged Charlotte in her studies to become an artist. Schreiber exhibited at the Royal Academy at the age of 21. Schreiber’s work is defined by an attention to detail and realistic renditions of everyday or literary scenes – most often executed in oil.
She further received encouragement and instruction from M.R. Herbert, R.A., who had worked on the frescoes for the British House of Lords. Mr. Herbert, on seeing Charlotte’s drawings of Chaucer’s Red Cross Knight encouraged her to publish them in 1871 with the text in a “handsome quarto.”
Schreiber trained at Mr. Carey’s School of Art in London where she also took lessons in anatomy from a former surgeon, and studied with John Rogers Herbert, R.A. an expert in portraits and historical paintings. While still in England, she made a name for herself and was commissioned to illustrate several books. Schreiber illustrated three books in England – Chaucer’s “The Legende of the Knight of the Red Crosse” and The First Book of Spenser’s “Faerie Queene” (1871). Her views on art were formed early, and she later made them known in an 1895 article of The Saturday Globe, as follows, “The human hand, the finger nail, the foot, every portion of the living body, the parts of a flower, are divinely beautiful. . . . It is a joy to paint them as they are in reality. Is it not better to do so than to use that method which gives any structure when viewed near at hand the appearance of an indistinguishable blotch?”
Although she didn’t agree with the beautiful impressionistic method, her realistic paintings were popular in London. She had many friends in the literary world and did illustrations for the book of her late friend, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the illustrated version of The Rhyme of the Duchess May (1874). Since Elizabeth Browning had died in 1961, this edition necessitated Charlotte’s correspondence with her husband, poet Robert Browning, who expressed great pleasure with her illustrations.
In 1875 at age forty-one, she married her cousin Weymouth Schreiber and moved to Toronto, Canada with him and his three children; she illustrated three children’s books that were published in Toronto. She is credited with bringing high realism to Canada .She continued to paint in Canada and quickly became involved in, and played an important role in the Toronto art community. She also painted photographs, and made miniatures of them to sell for parish work.
She illustrated three children’s books in Toronto and was one of the first women in Canada to do illustration, according to William Colgate in his Canadian Art Its Origin and Development. She was elected to the Ontario Society of Artists in 1876, was the first woman to teach at the newly formed Ontario College of Art in 1877, was appointed to the managing board in 1878 and ran the College with Lucius O’Brien and James Smith.
She was elected a charter member of the Royal Canadian Academy in 1880, he first woman elected as full academician (although she was not allowed to attend meetings or partake in policy making),and remained the only female member of the RCA until the second woman, Marion Long, was elected in 1933.
Her diploma painting for the RCA, The Croppy Boy (The Confession of an Irish Patriot) (1879) is a fine example of her meticulous rendition of the human form, combined with a literary source of inspiration. The National Gallery of Canada holds the painting, based on the Irish ballad “The Croppy Boy”, which was popular during the Irish rebellion of the 1790s. It tells the story of a youth who stops in a church to confess his sins as he prepares for the battle of Wexford. His audience, however, is not a Catholic priest, but a disguised British soldier who arrests him and takes him for execution. The painting shows the youth on his knees, earnestly addressing the cloaked soldier, whose uniform is visible to the viewer but not to the penitent. The two figures are united by the red in their clothing, but the soldier occupies the shadowy portion of the canvas, with the youth on the lighter side, perhaps suggesting Schreiber’s sympathies
One not shown at the RCA but reproduced in J. Russell Harper’s Painting in Canada is Springfield on the Credit. Although not so striking as her paintings inspired by literature it does provide us with a period scene of winter fun, two girls helping a third on a sleigh for a run down a hill.She was also the only woman on the council of the Ontario School of Art. She continued to paint actively throughout her life, as well as passing her passion and skill on to a new generation through teaching at the OSA. Her notable role as a woman artist with positions on governing bodies helped pave the way for women artists after her. She remained the only female member of the RCA until the second woman, Marion Long, was elected in 1933. Schreiber exhibited her work at the annual exhibitions of the Ontarion Society of Artists and the Royal Canadian Academy, the Art Association of Montreal, the Canadian Women’s Art Association, the Toronto Industrial Exhibitions, the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibitions, the Paris Salon (1890) and the World Columbian Exhibition in Chicago (1893). When her husband died in 1898, Schreiber returned to England where she lived in Paignton, Devon, and continued to paint and sell her work until she died in 1922.
Her principal exhibitions included the following:
Paris Salon (under her maiden name, Morrell)
1855-1874, Britain’s Royal Academy of Art (under her maiden name, Morrell)
1876, Philadelphia, Sesqui-Centennial Exhibition
1876-1888, Ontario Society of Artists
1880-1898, Royal Canadian Academy [of Art] 1892, Toronto, Lyceum Club
1967, Toronto, Lyceum Club
1967, Toronto, Erindale College
1985, Toronto, University of Toronto, Erindale Campus Art Gallery