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The Doris Staffen Mystery

Exhibitions

The Doris Staffen Mystery

Doris Staffen, was a contemporary of The Group of Seven who painted with George Thomson, the brother of Tom Thomson. She painted mainly in Georgian Bay, and wanted to be part of their group, but, she said, “they were a boys club and did not want me to join them”.

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Born Doris Marguerite Macpherson on January 18th 1905, in Springhill, Cumberland County, Nova Scotia, she later attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Buffalo, New York. She continued painting throughout her life, trying a variety of styles.

At 25 she married Milton Staffen, a banker, and lived in Owen Sound. They had no children. She went on painting trips with George Thomson, elder brother of acclaimed landscape painter Tom Thomson, and became acquainted with the Group of Seven. Most of her paintings were created on site, oil on board, in similar sizes and style, reflecting with profound insight the beauty of nature. 

A Globe & Mail article, dated September 1st 1938, says she was one of the first artists exhibiting at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, and won first, several seconds and third prizes.

Doris sold her paintings, as the Group of Seven did, at the Eatons store on College Street, to private collectors and later at auctions. She was 105 years old when she died. She expressed disappointment, well justified by the quality of her work, that she did not achieve more recognition, not unlike other women artists who painted during that period. As we begin to discover and celebrate women artists of the past, Doris deservers to join that group and receive well earned appreciation for dedicating her life to creating inspiring art.

This project looks into the lives of women painters and attitudes towards their work, influences of the Group of Seven and will be asking people for help in (i) identifying the locations she has depicted in her paintings (ii) if anyone has a painting that they know/think might be by Doris Staffen or (iii) has any additional information about her. This project also offers opportunities to discuss connoisseurship, attribution and art historical research.