Frederick Sproston Challener

Born in Whetstone, England, son of Edwin and Emma Jane (Wood) Challener, he came to Canada with his parents in 1870. He returned to England where he was educated at St. Paul’s School, Stratford, Essex. He returned to Toronto at the age of 14. He got a job in a stockbroker’s office on King Street and during his free time he sketched crowds outside his office window. He spent his lunch hours in front of the Notman and Fraser photography studio, where Canadian artists regularly exhibited. One day the owners of the studio on seeing him with his sketches, invited him into the studio. After examining his sketches they were so impressed with the work they gave him the entry fee for his enrollment in evening classes at the Ontario School of Art. Four months later his teachers, realizing his excep­tional talent, advised him that he was ready to work as an artist. Challener quit the stockbroker’s office and got a job as an apprentice to a Toronto Lithography Company. He approached G.A. Reid for instruction, first to watch his classes but Reid thought the classes were too advanced for the boy and agreed to give him free instruction in the evenings. Five years later in 1890 Challener held his first solo show at the RCA. He then worked as a newspaper artist. In 1896, being a member of the OSA, he produced a colour lithograph announcing the coming exhibition of the Society. His poster fea­tured a semi-nude woman reclining on the shore of Lake Ontario. A small boat in full sail is in the distance. The upper torso of the woman is painted in a pale peach. The shorelines are produced in golden yellows and the lake a pale blue. These colours indicated the influence of Art Nouveau, called “modern style” in North America. During 1898-99 he visited England, Italy, Egypt, Palestine and Syria where he saw a variety of murals accessible to the public. He studied and stored these references for when he would draw upon them later. Returning home he was inspired to work as a muralist and he took part in efforts by artists to decorate the new municipal building in Toronto and other buildings through the Toronto Society of Mural Decorators and the Toronto Guild of Civic Art. New theatres being built in various cities at last afforded him an opportunity to create some majestic murals. From 1907-17 he lived at Conestoga, Ontario, where he used a barn as a studio for his mural work. When he began his murals he also experi­enced rewards as an easel painter. In 1901 he received a Bronze Medal at the Pan American Exhibition in Buffalo for The Workers of the Fields which he deposited in the RCA diploma collection in the NGC. This work shows the influence of rural paintings by G.A. Reid. In 1904 he won a second Bronze Medal at the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition in St. Louis for The Milkmaid. Challener and C.W. Jefferys attended Reid’s classes at the same time and became good friends. Later they worked together on a number of murals and their collaboration often resulted in both artists insisting that the other be given credit for the work. Challener later made several historical paintings based on C.W. Jefferys’ drawings. He also filled commercial assignments including illustrations for Players Cigarettes. His work was generally real­istic, romantic and often decorative. Most of his larger paintings were done in oils, his smaller, in water colours. His drawings were often done on wove paper using charcoal and pastel/black chalk/or graphite. The NGC has three such works, A Cottage Madonna (1909), Mounted Indian Fighting (c. 1910), and a portrait, Professor James Mavor (1916). He completed murals (c. 1901) for the passenger boats, S.S. Toronto, S.S. Kingston, and S.S. Montreal; McConkey’s Restaurant, Tor. (1895); King Edward Hotel, Tor. (1900); the Russell Theatre, Ottawa (1901), and when this theatre was demolished the murals were salvaged through the efforts of H.O. McCurry of the NGC; Opera House, London, Ont. (1905); Royal Alexandra Theatre, Tor. (1907); Royal Alexandra Hotel, Wpg. (1909-12); MacDonald Hotel, Edn. (1914); Beaver Theatre, Tor. (1917); a theatre in Hamilton (1920); 14 panels for the R.S. McLaughlin residence, Parkwood, Oshawa (1924-26); Laidlaw Bldg, Tor. (1928); Manoir Richelieu, Murray Bay, Que., where he carried out work in 1945 previously designed by C.W. Jefferys. He com­pleted seven panels for the foyer of Globe Envelopes Ltd., showing the development of the Canadian Postal Service (research material was pro­vided by the federal post office). Charles E. McFaddin (registrar, AGO in 1963) wrote an informative article on Challener’s murals accompanied by illustrations of them for Canadian Art (1963), including photos of the artist and a b & w of his 1896 OSA exhibition poster. Donald Jones in his Historical Toronto (1983), notes the following, “For his mural in the Royal Alexandra, he chose that dramatic moment in classical mythology when Venus discovered the sleeping Adonis . . . the beautiful model who posed for all the women in the painting was Challener’s wife.” He also completed a number of historical paintings for the Government of Ontario, The Fathers of Confederation (c. 1917-19), The First Legislature of Upper Canada (1955), Etienne Brulé at the Mouth of the Humber (1956). Challener taught at Central Technical School, Tor. (1921-24); and OCA, Tor., (1927-52). He died in Toronto at the age of 90. Affiliations: TASL (1886-96); OSA (1890); ARCA (1891), RCA (1899); Palette Club, Tor. (1893-94); Soc. of Mural Decorators, Tor. (fdr-mbr. 1894); Guild of Civic Art, Tor. (1897); New Water Colour Society, Tor. (fdr-mbr. 1900); CSAP (1905); A&LCT (fdr-mbr. 1908); GAC (1909); SGA (1912); MSA (c. 1913); CSPWC (c. 1926-30).

Colin S. MacDonald

A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, volumes 1-8 by Colin S. MacDonald, and volume 9 (online only), by Anne Newlands and Judith Parker
National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Available artwork: 
In the Gold Rush Days  by Frederick Sproston  Challener
In the Gold Rush Days
Signed and 1917 front lower right Exhibited: Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto Ontario Society of Artists Annual Exhibition
Oil on Panel, 13 x 14
Loch Gallery, Calgary
Artist origin: 
Artist type: 
Historical works of significance


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