Volume 135 - Number 44 - Tuesday October 28th, 2014                                                                                                                         Wiarton, Ontario, Canada

The life and art of the Peninsula’s Sir Paul Duff

Nelson Phillips photo
Paul Duff’s paintings of the Bruce Peninsula in the Mar gallery space.
Paul passed away on October 5, at the age of 86.
Nelson Phillips | Editor

   A local, and international art icon left us last week. Paul Duff, of Mar, and originally from Hamilton will be remembered for his outstanding contribution to Canadian art, perhaps most notably by his paintings of the Bruce Peninsula.
   “He used to finish his work quickly, and his teacher, when he was eight or nine years old, would give him permission to go to the back of the class and he would paint little pictures,” said Leila Duff, Paul’s late wife, during an interview and tour in Paul’s Peninsula studio.
   Leila shows off one of the paintings that was hung in Paul’s childhood school, one of his first.
   “After he finished University, he went off to Brazil and didn’t know what ever happened to that painting. Then one day after he came back, he got a call from an elderly lady who worked at the school who asked him, ‘are you the Paul Duff who painted this?’ He was so overwhelmed, just really happy. When they closed the school, she took the painting and it hung in her home for years and years,” said Duff.
   Paul was was conferred a knighthood in the Order of St. Andrew of Jerusalem, by the Prince St. Michel de Clermont of Scotland, in May of 2005. His regalia hangs proudly in his studio, accompanied by multiple awards, achievements, newspaper articles and notices; including a lifetime membership to the Federation of Ontario Naturalists, and a personalized letter from the Mayor of New York City.

Nelson Phillips photo    
One of three gallery spaces at Paul Duff’s Mar studio.
   “I think it was because he had paintings all over the world, for one thing,” said Duff. “One was hung in the national art gallery of Scotland - I believe that’s how it came about. He was also given honourary citizenship of Carioca, Brazil. He’s been everywhere.”
   Paul has an extensive resume of places that hold his artwork, including the national gallery’s of Brazil and Scotland, Provincial government of Ontario in Queen’s Park, the Mayor’s Office of New York City, the President of China, and numerous other museum’s and galleries worldwide.
   At the age of 22, Duff exhibited with members of Canada’s Group of Seven, leading to official recognition by the National Gallery of Canada as a Canadian Painter in August, 1956.
   “A.Y. Jackson, told him that in order to be recognized as a Canadian artist, he had to go out of the country,” recalls Leila. “Most artists have to. He had a friend in Brazil and decided to go.”

Duff leaves a legacy of adoration for the Bruce Peninsula

   Paul was invited to “exhibit at the National Gallery of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. The next year he became the first Canadian to receive an honorary citizenship to the City of Rio de Janeiro and later inducted as a member of the order of Honorary Cariocas,” describes his website.
   Paul also taught visual arts as an itinerant teacher in Switzerland and Brazil, after graduating from Hamilton’s Teacher’s College.
   “His mother wanted him to be a pianist, and he did study about 10-12 years of piano. He loved music but didn’t have the gift to play concerts. His father wanted him to be a doctor, and so he did take a few years of medicine. He’s done an awful lot in his life, but always, his inner compulsion and gift was to make art. That’s what he always wanted to do, this was his love, his goal,” said Duff.
   “Some people would say: ‘oh you’re a painter. Of houses? Barns?’ And he’s say ‘yeah, just with a much smaller brush,” laughed Leila.
   He returned to Canada in 1981, where he set up shop in Mar, along highway six, where many locals may recognize the landmark yellow palette sign that occupies the roadside.
   Leila, who was born in Switzerland, said that she and Duff came to the Bruce Peninsula prompted by Paul’s memberships to both the Bruce Trail Association, and the​ Federation of Ontario Naturalists’.
   “Paul loved it up here. He came up for summer camps, and taught painting and went on hikes. He just fell in love with the area - and he did not like the city, he didn’t want to settle down there,” said Leila.

Nelson Phillips photo
Originally from Hamilton, Paul Duff was conferred a knighthood in 2005 by the Prince Michel
du Claremont in the order of St. Andrew of Jerusalem. He was honoured by many countries,
dignitaries, international artists and local naturalist clubs. Leila notes that he recently switched
from a traditional practice of using oil paints, to using acrylics, due to a recommendation from
his Doctor. Duff was amazed by his ability to not fade while sitting in direct sunlight, and chose to paint on board, rather than canvas.
   Duff had never attended school for visual arts - he was entirely self-taught. Leila says that Paul would often say: “this is a god-given gift. I’m just a painter, God is the artist.”
   Duff would paint predominantly from memory, occasionally taking a photograph to highlight some miniscule detail that he wished to capture. Everything would come straight from his head, recalled Leila.
   “A musician composes music, he sometimes composed a painting. He’d put things together from a place into a painting. He just kind of did what he wanted, whatever appealed to him, or what he thought people may prefer.”
   Leila notes that Paul would take a short break from painting after Thanksgiving, and then dive right back in - sometimes even sleeping in his studio. She said that Paul would regularly take on the task of filling out an approximate 400-600 Christmas cards each summer.
   “He had quite a list from the time we opened the gallery, and he’d starting writing Christmas cards in the summer. But it’s strange, he didn’t do that this year. He must have had a premonition that he didn’t have much time. He always did that.”
   “We live up here in a beautiful spot, and this was his church. This was his inspiration,” concluded Duff.
   Sir Paul Duff was 86 years old.