Jack Lorimer Gray (1927-1981)

Jack Lorimer Gray (1927-1981)

Jack Lorimer Gray was fortunate to combine his natural artistic talent, first discovered during childhood when he began sketching vessels on Lunenburg Bay, with his lifelong passion for sailing, and enjoyed a storied career as one of Canada’s most successful maritime painters. 

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Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1927, Gray briefly attended the Nova Scotia College of Art in the mid-1940s before leaving school to work on fishing boats for about a year, a move that gave him the opportunity to study and absorb the technical aspects of various ships and the changeable forces of the ocean. He later resumed his formal education at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, where he took a course in life drawing under Arthur Lismer in 1948, but continued spending his summers at sea, sketching and working alongside Nova Scotia’s hardy sailors and coming to know intimately his chosen subject of life on the open water.

The early 1950s found Gray in Nova Scotia, married and a father to his first son, and often living on boats that served as floating studios. The family moved to New York City by the middle of the decade, where the city’s dense waterfront provided a wealth of new material for his brush. He captured steamships and tugboats and the bustling wharves up close and personal from the vantage point of his 15-foot flat-bottomed skiff called S.O.B, and the resulting body of work was shown at Kennedy Galleries, his first major American exhibition. He also completed a series of twelve paintings called the New York Harbor Collection which found ready buyers and helped build his name among a wider American audience. With this success, Gray soon upgraded his boat (he would live aboard and captain several vessels over the course of his career), and in 1959 moved again, this time to Winterport, Maine, along the Penobscot River, and spent the next two years creating what some considered to be his best work.

In 1961, Gray left Winterport and returned to Halifax, where he purchased a piece of property with a requisite dock for a dedicated sailor-artist. Around this time, his connection with a New York publicist brought his work to the eyes of President John F. Kennedy, who shared with Gray a lifelong passion for sailing. President Kennedy acquired Gray’s Dressing Down the Gully (now in the collection of the Kennedy Memorial Collection, Newport News, Virginia) and invited him to the White House for an unveiling ceremony in July of 1962, an event which brought even more attention from galleries and collectors, and cemented Gray’s place in the annals of maritime painting.

While the chilly waters and hardworking mariners of Canada and Maine provided ample inspiration for his canvases, by the mid-1960s Gray had divorced and relocated to the warmer climes of West Palm Beach, Florida. He remarried and had a second son, and lived on a series of boats which he enjoyed navigating along the Gulf Stream on jaunts to the Bahamas. His work continued to be shown through relationships he had established with Worth Avenue gallerists in Palm Beach, however the artist never left Nova Scotia behind and returned every summer to the paintable North Atlantic scenery he loved best. Despite his gregarious nature and undeniable zest for life, Gray tragically passed away due to an infection at only 54 years old, and his ashes were later scattered near the entrance to Lunenburg Bay. Today Gray’s work can be found in many Canadian and American private collections and in several museums, including the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, the Museum of the City of New York, and the United States Marine Corps Museum in Virginia.

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