Robert Bateman: Guardian of Nature
By Melissa Montgomery
Canada is very proud to be the birthplace of Robert Bateman. His love and respect for nature has melded into an international career both in art and in books. Robert was born in Toronto in 1930. From an early age Robert was interested in nature and began to paint wildlife while in his teens.
The Don Watershed was directly behind the house where he grew up, and Robert had the opportunity to observe and sketch wildlife without leaving the city. For a young child, this was an invaluable and unparalleled urban resource. Birds, squirrels, toads and the odd owl were Robert’s first subjects. When Robert was twelve he began art classes with the painter Gordon Payne. Robert exchanged his natural and realistic style to that which was in vogue: cubism, impressionism, and abstract expressionism.
After graduating from High School in 1950, Robert attended the University of Toronto where he obtained a BA in Geography. Then he attended and The Ontario College of Education. He worked at the Fish Research Station of the Wildlife Regional Camp while in school. This no doubt gave him more valuable experience viewing wildlife in their natural habitat. Upon graduation, Robert worked for the Geological Survey of Canada researching and drawing maps of Canadian terrain. He also worked for a mining company in the far north which added to his knowledge of the great outdoor terrain of Canada.
Robert had planned on becoming a teacher and did so for twenty years in Ontario. After attending an Andrew Wyeth exhibition in New York, he felt the need to paint. He moved to Nigeria where he began to teach Geography. He painted the surrounding wildlife on his off hours. He was introduced to a woman who had an art studio and Nairobi and she insisted on exhibiting his work. She had many European clients and gradually Robert’s realistic portrayals of wildlife began to sell.
Robert returned to Canada in 1965 and continued teaching. He has his first one man show in 1967 and it was a success. Throughout the next decade, Robert began to sell his work for higher and higher prices. Soon Robert became unable to teach because of the overwhelming success of his art work. He retired from teaching in the late 1970’s. Today Robert and his wife, artist Birgit Freybe live on Salt Spring Island. He continues to paint and lecture about the importance of protecting wildlife. He has an international reputation and has exhibited at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC as well as Europe. His work is in many collections belonging to royalty and regular folk alike. He has published six books and been featured in over fifty publications. His son Alan and his wife Holly are both painters- they are continuing the legacy of great Canadian Painters!