December 05, 1906
John Eric Benson Riordon is born in St. Catharines, Ontario, the son of Charles Christopher “Carl” Riordon and Amy Louise Paterson. His original first name was recorded as Joseph, corrected by his father to John on the official record, June 1927.
Eric’s great-uncle John and grandfather Charles founded Riordon Brothers in the 1860's which would eventually became Canada’s leading manufacturer of paper and paper products. They built mills and acquired large timber tracts in Ontario and Quebec. By 1906, his father Carl was in charge of the business and would lead an ambitious expansion and development program. The story of the Riordon brothers and Carl is told in the biography "The Riordon Papermakers", see the next tab.
1908, January-February, Montreal
The Riordon family moves to Montreal. Carl purchases a large home, "Amherst House", at 374 Avenue Côte-des-Neiges, in the Westmount district and a short distance from the city centre.
1910, Lac Caché, Laurentian Mountains
At this time Carl Riordon is buying leases on timber properties in the Laurentian Mountains north of Montreal. One of these deals includes a then quite remote property at Lac Caché (Hidden Lake) just outside the western border of Mont-Tremblant National Park. There he builds a summer home. From 1912, through his school years and beyond, Eric spends his summers (and occasional winters) at Lac Caché, exploring the hills and forests, canoeing and hiking. As an adult he would travel there in all seasons, visiting family and painting. The mountains and streams, farms and villages, of the Laurentians would become the main subjects of his brush and the work with which he is most identified. The island on Lac Caché is still known as Riordon Island.
1913 – 1916, Selwyn House Schools, Montreal
Eric attends Selwyn House Schools in Westmount, a private, independent school opened in 1908 by academics from England for the English elite of Montreal. The Academy still exists and has flourished over the years.
1916 – 1924, Ashbury College, Ottawa
Eric attends the elite Ashbury College private boys’ school in Ottawa. Many of his classmates are from wealthy society families and great numbers would serve in WWII. The college honour roll of war dead from that war and WWI is a lengthy one. Ashbury College maintains a high academic standing to this day with a modern curriculum and a now diverse student body.
1924 – 1926, McGill University, Montreal
Despite mediocre grades in his final year at Ashbury College, Eric is enrolled in the Sciences program at McGill University in Montreal. His brothers Harold and Peter graduated from McGill in science (geology) and engineering respectively. His father was a patron and life member of the McGill University Club. It is sufficient to say that Riordon did not appear to be particularly involved in the curriculum, being forced to repeat his first year and not evidencing much improvement on the second attempt. Rather oddly he received a mark of only 27 out of 75 for the free drawing course he took in his first year. It seems there was a lack of interest and motivation at that time, not of ability.
1926 - 1930, Finding his way
After leaving McGill in May of 1926 Eric spent a year working at International Pulp and Paper, the company that had absorbed Riordon Brothers and in which his father still held an interest. His duties were described as “technical work” in a 1938 biography.
It must be around this time that Eric was discovering he had a real talent for drawing and had already found his favoured subject in the Laurentians. In February and March of 1928 Eric, accompanied his parents and sister Edith for a lengthy stay in England. His father had business to deal with and there were aunts to visit in London. He later produced paintings of Scotland for exhibition, he may have journeyed there on this trip and made sketches. This was Eric’s first voyage on an ocean-going vessel and must have furthered his interest in depicting the sea and ships. The passenger manifest for the return journey on the SS Majestic gives us a physical description at age 21: 5’ 10” tall, fair complexion, light brown hair and blue eyes. Only weeks after his return from oversea 1928 Eric is featured in a newspaper advertisement as an agent for the National Trust touting a new real estate development on the slopes of Mount Royal in Westmount, across the street from the Riordon residence. As the ad says, Eric was "on the spot", working from the family home. His father was then, and for many subsequent years, on the advisory committee for the board of directors of National Trust. That committee and board comprised a significant share of the most powerful men in Canadian business and finance. The real estate agent job did not appear to last very long, no further ads appeared in the newspapers.
At that time May 01 was the traditional Quebec moving day (changed to July 01 in 1973) where the whole province seemed to be engaged in a mass game of musical chairs. Mid April was thus an ideal date for a neophyte real estate agent to place an advertisement for a new development. His father's firm, National Trust, was the agency for the developers.
April 28, 1928, Montreal Star
By the fall of 1928 he was taking his interest in art seriously enough to enrol in a charcoal drawing class from November to March of 1929 at the École des beaux-arts de Montréal (Montreal Fine Arts Academy). A measure of this interest is that he passed up an opportunity to travel with his parents and brother Peter. They were away at the same time on a five month tour of Africa and to attend the January wedding of his elder brother Harold in South Africa.
The director of the École des beaux-arts de Montréal was Charles Maillard, a France born artist and administrator who had attended the Académie Julian in Paris. Maillard was adept in a number of painting styles and later became a prolific painter of Quebec landscapes. He may very well have encouraged and assisted Eric's subsequent enrolment in Paris art schools. Later in 1929 Eric was working at a brokerage house in Montreal, not a promising position given the pending market collapse. It is apparent he was now focusing primarily on a career as a painter, nurturing and developing both his artistic ability and artistic ambition over the next couple of years. An early work, a pastel dated 1930, when he was 23 years old, shows clear indications of a good sense of composition and handling of colours and a real talent for drawing. The depiction of the snow edged stream in the foreground is a device he would refine and continue to use throughout his career.
The 1931 Canada census reveals Riordon was then still living at home on Chemin de la Côte des Neiges. His father's residence, Amherst House, was a twenty room stone house that Riordon shared with his parents, younger siblings Mary and Peter, a Danish cook and an English housekeeper, both recent immigrants. He listed his occupation as "self-employed artist" and his place of business as "Own Studio." This certainly leaves no doubt of the artistic career he had set for himself. No income is stated for Eric, quite probably because there was none at this stage. The census also reveals that all family members were bilingual, then a rarity in this part of Westmount.
1931 – First Exhibitions
By 1931 Riordon had developed sufficient self-confidence to submit works for the first time to the annual spring exhibition of the Art Association of Montreal (A.A.M.), later to become the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. He called himself J.E.B. Riordon and received what was probably his first mention in print as an artist in a March 21 A.A.M. review article in the Montreal Star. Most of the prominent artists of Montreal were members of the A.A.M. and submitted works each spring, as did many well-known artists from across Canada. The A.A.M. annual exhibition, much like the famous Paris Salon, was also designed to discover new talent and aspiring amateurs were encouraged to send in their best works. The gallery accepted all submissions and the jury, made up of members and associate members of the Royal Canadian Academy, typically chose twenty-five to thirty percent of these works for display at the show.
Two of Riordon’s works were accepted in 1931, a very good beginning. His talent was already being recognised and attracting the attention of art professionals. Riordon’s appearance at the A.A.M. show likely prompted the National Gallery of Canada to send him one of their Artist Information Forms which requested artists, new and established, to give their contact and biographical information, details on their studies, honours received and memberships in arts organizations. The return date of the form is missing but must be late in 1931. Riordon mentions his lone formal course of study in 1928-1929 at the École des beaux-arts then writes: “Have studied entirely on my own since with help from other artists on occasion. I have also learned from two or three books.” He then presages the predominant theme of his subsequent artistic career: “Having spent every summer since 1912 in a secluded spot in the Laurentians – and also occasional winter and spring visits – I have developed a close touch with the nature typical of those parts. I have learned to love it.” He also describes holding a ”one-man show” in Toronto and two in Montreal. To date a record of only one of these shows has been identified, in October at the New Gallery on Drummond Street in Montreal. This was an exhibition of pastels, mainly of winter scenes in the Laurentians and also included a picture of ships in a fog. He would keep these subjects in his repertoire for the rest of his career. The New Gallery exhibition attracted a review in the Montreal Star newspaper. The writer introduces Riordon as “….self-taught as an artist and has only been engaged seriously on this work for a little more than a year, which makes his exhibition all the more remarkable.” The review concludes prophetically, ”Having done so much in so short a time, Mr Riordon may evidently be expected to produce still better work in the near future.”
It is interesting to note that Maurice Cullen also had a Laurentian landscape in the 1931 A.A.M. show and that year was also the occasion of a comprehensive retrospective of his work held at the École des beaux-arts. Riordon must have been very well aware of his work as Cullen was then known as the premier painter of the Laurentians. They both painted in the same areas of the Laurentians and Riordon’s painting style, although distinctively his own, is often reminiscent of Cullen in subject and perspective.
1932-1934 – Paris & Europe
The next steps to “...produce still better work...” would come in 1932. It began with the submission of more works to the A.A.M. spring exhibition of which at least one was accepted. The biggest step began when Riordon left Montreal's Victoria Station on the overnight train to Halifax on Friday the 29th of January, 1932. The next day he sailed for Paris arriving on Monday, the 8th of February. He was following a well-trodden path for Canadian artists. The likes of Emily Carr, James Morrice, Maurice Cullen, Franklin Brownell, A.Y. Jackson, William Brymner and J.W. Beatty, among dozens of others had trained and worked in Paris. Many of these artists became highly influential educators and leaders in creating, disseminating and promoting Canadian art.
Riordon, like many other North American artists, enrolled in the famous Paris art school, L’Académie de La Grande Chaumière. La Grande Chaumière, on the street of the same name, was located in the Montparnasse district at the epicentre of artistic activity in Paris. It was a walk of only a minute or two to the popular cafés such as La Rotonde and Le Dome at the intersection of the boulevards Montparnasse and Raspail. Galleries and bookstores also lined the neighbourhood streets. This was the Paris of Picasso, Chagall and Dali, of Giacometti and Brancusi and of Sartre, Joyce and Hemingway, Ravel and Stravinsky. There was no place on earth more thoroughly steeped in the developments and movements that then animated the worlds of art and literature.
Riordon had secured living quarters, and may have also had a studio, at the Maison des Étudiants Canadiens (MEC), a residence in the new Cité Universitaire at the south edge of the city and an easy walk or metro ride to his school. The Cité Universitaire was established after the First World War as a means of bringing together young people from many countries who were involved in the arts, literature, philosophy and politics. The main goals were to promote tolerance and mutual understanding by fostering artistic creation and the exchange of ideas, particularly after the horrors of the recent war. Many national “Maisons” were built over the years but MEC was the very first, sponsored by the Canadian government and financed by Joseph-Marcellin Wilson, a Canadian industrialist and senator. It was completed in 1926. Riordon would have had close contact with many other Canadians following the same path. He was surrounded every day by artistic and intellectual influences at his residence and at school. In other years such as Paul-Emile Borduas, Pierre Trudeau, Adrienne Clarkson, Alfred Pellan and Jacques Parizeau would be residents at MEC.
Riordon’s primary art school, Académie de La Grande Chaumière, had a relatively liberal and decidedly non-academic teaching style. The atmosphere was collegial and informal and tuition was inexpensive. It was said that the school provided only warmth in the winter, models, and a place to paint but the most important element was the high quality of the faculty. Riordon was instructed primarily by Louis Biloul, a very well-regarded teacher. He was himself a fine artist and a former pupil of the famous orientalist painter and teacher, Benjamin Constant. Biloul was also a long-time professor at the very formal école des beaux-arts in Paris and had exhibited for over 40 years at the Salon through the Société des Artistes Francais, winning significant honours and awards on several occasions. Biloul was one of many Beaux Arts professors who also taught at the private academies and gave personal lessons in their own studios.
There are several references in reviews and obituaries to Riordon’s attendance at the renowned art school, the Académie Julian, a school with much the same atmosphere as La Grande Chaumière. By his own account he did attend, perhaps informally as was possible, although he does not mention this in the National Gallery Artist Information Form he completed in July of 1934 just before his return to Canada.
Riordon also had the freedom of time and resources (presumably supplied by his father) to travel across a great part of Europe to find pleasing subjects and gain valuable experience. He must have joined his parents and sister Mary in February of 1934. They were on a three month tour of Europe, including Paris and many of the locations where Riordon produced paintings. Mary was also an aspiring artist and had some success later including favourably reviewed solo shows in Western Canada. She also showed at several A.A.M. exhibitions and one with the R.C.A.
Riordon's favoured subjects were found in the Alps of France, Austria and Switzerland and on the coast of Brittany in southwestern France. He also travelled to Dalmatia (the Adriatic Sea coast of present day Croatia), northern Italy and Belgium. Riordon painted primarily winter snow scenes, mountain vistas and maritime scenes. There are also a number of urban scenes from Paris and Brussels. His skill and technique were improving and he was able to have a work accepted by the jury of the Société des Artistes Francais and shown at the Salon of Paris in the spring of 1933.
The annual Salon shows had been a fixture in Paris for decades. Hundreds of artists would exhibit thousands of works and young emerging artists were welcomed as critics and collectors were always looking for new talent. No doubt it helped to have an influential teacher in Louis Biloul who would assist his students to make their submissions. Biloul was also a "sociétaire" of les Artistes Français and a regularly elected member of the Salon jury pool. Approximately one third of the jury pool was chosen by ballot each year to preside over the selections and awards. Perhaps as a consequence a great number of sociétaire pupils were chosen to exhibit, including many of Biloul's.
The Riordon work selected was one from back home, “Winter Afternoon”, a scene from his beloved Laurentian Mountains. This oil on canvas can be seen as the model for a subject he would paint repeatedly throughout his career. It was described as: “…a house and barn on a sunny winter day with a nearby mountain throwing its shadow, distant snowclad hills, and in the foreground, a bit of open water between deep banks and bushes laden with snow.”
A Riordon work was again chosen for the 1934 Salon, this one of the Austrian Tyrol entitled “Le Calvaire”
An appearance at the Salon in consecutive years was a significant honour for Riordon to take home to Montreal. He also had works accepted at the 1934 A.A.M. show, as did his sister Mary. His time in Paris and travels around Europe must have imparted considerable self-confidence and belief in his own talent. After false starts in academia and the financial world of his father he now had every reason to believe he could succeed at his true ambition, a life as a professional artist.
1935 – 1939, Growth and Success
1935 began with an exhibition in Toronto at the Fine Art Gallery of Simpson’s flagship department store at Queen and Yonge. Landscapes from Canada and abroad were featured. Riordon’s pictures were shown alongside those of a contemporary, the young and subsequently very successful Toronto artist, Franklin Arbuckle. Riordon again made an appearance at the 1935 spring show of the A.A.M., showing pictures from his European sojourn in snow-clad mountains of Switzerland and the Austrian Tyrol. The most important and lasting result of this show was the keen interest in his work shown by a gallery owner named Vilma Shima. She and her husband Josef had immigrated to Montreal from Austria in the 1920’s. In January of 1934 they had established the Continental Galleries of Fine Art at 1310 Sainte-Catherine St W., (across the street from the Ogilvy's store where the North Atlantic Convoy exhibition would be staged in 1950). The Shimas were selling the works of English, Austrian and other continental artists that Josef brought back from European buying trips. He was away on just such a trip at the time of the A.A.M. exhibition and Vilma made the initial arrangements with Riordon for his first major, fully representative, Montreal exhibition at their gallery in the autumn.
The Continental Galleries exhibition opened on October 28, 1935 and was an immediate success with newspaper reviewers and the public. Several European works were shown including paintings of the Swiss and Austrian Alps, Lake Maggiore in Italy, ships off the coast of Brittany and three Paris city scenes. There were also many of the much in demand Laurentian winter scenes with titles such as “Sunrise on the North River” and “Moonrise on the Cache River”. A scene of a ship in fog on the Gulf of St Lawrence, one of a number of marine pictures, was much commented on. A distinct feature of the exhibition was “Winter Afternoon”, the same painting that had been selected for his first Salon in Paris in 1933.
The reviewer in the Montreal Gazette said: “Mr Riordon knows what will make a good picture, composes well and uses clean colour in a confident manner.” La Presse gave Riordon over a half page of coverage, the reviewer commenting on his talent at composition and the quiet and peaceful charm evoked in his landscapes. Especially noted was his ability to bring out the subtle characteristics and many variations in the appearance of snow.
The following year, 1936, repeated and amplified the success he achieved on his return to Canada. He again showed in the spring at the A.A.M. with two works, “The Joyous Song of the Sea” and “Afternoon Sun, Laurentians”. His second, and until 1941, annual fall exhibition at Continental Galleries in October presented oils and pastels, largely of European subjects and some Laurentian scenes. A reviewer mentions his “…deft and easy brush” and also points out that Riordon was not taking risks in either subject or treatment. He goes on, “If there is a touch of sentimentality about them, the majority of people will not object to it.”
Riordon’s standing as a Montreal painter was confirmed at a special exhibition in May at the Scott Gallery on Drummond Street. It was held to feature the principal artists who had worked in Montreal over the last century. Several works by Cornelius Krieghoff were included as well as those of Fred Verner and Otto Jacobi, all from the previous century. Those who had worked into the twentieth century, many still active, included J.W. Morrice (several pictures from early and late career), Horatio Walker, John Hammond, Maurice Cullen, F.S. Coburn, Fred Hutchison and A.Y. Jackson, among others. The newer generation was represented by Robert Pilot, John Lyman, Edwin Holgate and Thomas Beament (who would become a WWII R.C.N. commander and an official navy war artist). The youngest group included Riordon, Graham Norwell and Jean Palardy. It was a further sign of recognition and acceptance to be included in such an august gathering.
The year was even more significant for Riordon as he became engaged in November to a vivacious and highly accomplished young woman named Mollie Usher-Jones. She also came from English Westmount high society and, from her early teens, became well-known in Montreal as an interpretive dancer and teacher. In her later teens she was organising and participating in dance and music recitals and staging large, elaborate, professional dance theatre productions. Mollie recalled her first sight of Eric, “ I was walking through the ballroom when I saw the handsomest man I had ever seen…I just stood there and gasped, “Who is that man?”…”There was no other man for me…”.
During the war years Mollie was the chief organizer, artistic director and choreographer of the TNT Revue, a variety show of singing, dancing and comedy that entertained troops of all the services at their many bases in Quebec and Eastern Ontario. They also staged many fund and morale raising shows for the various civilian war support organizations. Well over two hundred shows were put on, the cast being composed primarily of young women holding regular day jobs in Montreal stores and offices who volunteered their talent, time and considerable energy.
Riordon achieved another milestone in 1937 by having a work accepted in the annual Royal Canadian Academy exhibition in November, another indication of his growing reputation with the professional artist establishment. The Academy was the most prestigious arts organization in Canada, conferring honours and staging exhibitions of the highest professional standards. Having a work selected for a juried R.C.A. show was a distinct honour for a young and relatively inexperienced artist. It meant being included with the best artists in the whole country and could also lead to an eventual membership in the Academy. Riordon was to have at least one work included in the annual R.C.A. exhibition every year through 1948, with the sole exception of 1940.
Riordon also had a painting of roses, likely painted for the occasion, selected for a spring flower painting exhibition at the prestigious Watson Gallery, considered the top gallery in Montreal at the time. Others in this exhibition included notable names such as Marion Long, William Brymner, F.S. Coburn and Clara Hagarty, who is still well-known for her flower pictures.
In Toronto the Malloney Gallery held another spring exhibition of his work. June saw Riordon chosen as a judge in a poster contest for the Montreal branch of the S.P.C.A. The contest was to choose approximately 100 posters for display and sale to benefit the S.P.C.A. He was in very good company, his fellow judges were the fine Montreal artists, Robert Pilot and Ethel Seath.
Eric Riordon married Mollie Usher-Jones on June 23 of 1937, the Westmount society wedding of the summer. In the news style of the day the lengthy coverage in the papers barely mentions the groom, the list of attendees and the ladie's fashions took precedence. The couple moved to a house at 4801 Grosvenor Avenue, still in Westmount though not nearly as upscale an address as the family homes.
The Riordon’s then embarked on their honeymoon, a lengthy road trip through Eastern Canada and the United States. They motored along the south shore of the St. Lawrence, around the Gaspé peninsula, then Saint John in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. There were many relatives and friends to visit and stay over with along the route. In the United States they travelled along the coast of Maine and through Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Riordon kept busy with brush and canvas all along the way as pictures of many of these locations turned up just three months later at his regular fall exhibition at the Continental Galleries.
Paintings were shown of scenes along the St. Lawrence, of Percé Rock, the sea at Prout’s Neck, Maine, a schooner at Gloucester, Massachusetts and of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, as well as his familiar images of the Laurentians.
Riordon’s solid technique, compositional sense, and ability to portray the effects of light on snow continued to be much admired by the reviewers. They found him to be likeable, of a cheerful and optimistic nature and his pictures reflected that. They were “..easy to live with..”, sometimes a touch sentimental, quite distinctive, and increasingly popular. Riordon was becoming one of Canada’s most recognised and successful artists. His pictures sold very well, not necessarily a criteria for greatness, but nonetheless firmly establishing him as a solid, highly competent, professional artist.
The reviewer for the Montreal Gazette, commenting on the 1939 Continental Gallery exhibition, wrote: “The heartening little red stars that indicate sales have appeared on a number of frames and there is ample evidence that there is a wide circle of picture lovers who still like art of a nature that requires no chart to explain its meaning.. It is a refreshing show and the collection contains items which justify a success as distinct as those of former years.” Another reviewer for The Montrealer magazine wrote of Riordons “…deep appreciation of the value of tranquility.”
The next two years, besides his annual exhibitions with the A.A.M. and Continental Galleries, saw his appearance in an August, 1938 show at the T. Eaton Company store in Montreal, and a special Christmas, 1938 exhibit where his winter scenes were a natural fit. He also had a major exhibition in Toronto, which he attended for most of the run, at the J. Merritt Malloney Gallery in February and March of 1939. This show attracted an enthusiastic review by the long-time arts critic for the Toronto Star, Augustus Bridle. Bridle had been a founding member of the Arts and Letters Club in Toronto, regular meeting place of the Group of Seven. He wrote: “Riordon never paints a landscape with the careless glamour of a sketch. He works for impressive details and gets them.”
In June Eric and Mollie left on a painting trip by car to the Cobalt area in Northern Ontario then on to Rouyn-Noranda where his sister Mary’s husband, Gordon Forbes, a classmate at Ashbury College, was employed as a mining engineer. They travelled to California in July, returning to Montreal in August by train via Vancouver. The artistic result was a number of paintings of the Canadian Rockies in the 1939 fall show at Continental Galleries and in several subsequent exhibitions. He also received further affirmation of his status by having two works accepted at the 1939 Royal Canadian Academy show in November.
1940 – 1945, Service and Family
Eric Riordon enlisted in the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve on June 10, 1940. His service, through May 12 of 1945, is fully detailed in "A Lieutenant In The RCNVR" under The Navy Years tab on the website.
Before joining up he held another solo exhibition in Toronto at the J. Merritt Malloney Gallery. Tea was served.
He also contributed a picture to the spring A.A.M. show. The few months after joining up were a kind of “phony war” for him, training and other duties at Montreal division were episodic and he had time at home and time to paint. He did produce enough new work to stage his annual exhibition at Continental Galleries in November, although on a somewhat reduced scale.
Riordon was fortunately still in Montreal for the birth of his and Mollie’s first child. Eric Carl Riordon was born on the 4th of October at the Royal Victoria Hospital. Just four weeks later on October 31, Riordon was posted to Halifax for sea-going duty on the minesweeper HMCS Fundy. Eric Jr. became a prominent figure in the Canadian advertising and public relations world. He passed away in 2019 at Prince Edward Island.
Riordon continued to paint throughout his service although not without difficulty at times. He was interviewed for a newspaper story in late October of 1941 just before leaving Montreal for Halifax to go aboard his first ship. He stated that while serving as executive officer he was only able to paint “….a few hours a week, mostly on weekends.” He was not able to do much more than occasional sketching during the fifteen months or so he served onboard ship. He did produce a convoy themed picture in 1941 entitled “Sinister Night” which eventually appeared in the 1945 R.C.A. exhibition. He also showed a Laurentian scene for the main fall Academy exhibition in Montreal.
His contribution to the 1943 R.C.A. fall exhibition, “Ahead to the Eastward Lies the Dangerous Night”, was purchased by the Musée de la province de Québec in Québec City (now the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec) for $300.00, the rough equivalent of $7,500.00 today. This appears to be the first of his works to be acquired by a major public institution. The painting is still in the collection and is reproduced below with permission.
Riordon’s most important wartime artistic production was his work for the book “Canada’s War At Sea”. The story of this project is told under the tab of the same name.
Eric and Mollie’s second son, Michael, was born February 18, 1944 in Montreal at the Royal Victoria Hospital. Michael became a well-known radio and film producer, documentary film maker and a prolific playwright. He is also the author of several popular books including “Out our way”, which is graced with a very fine Eric Riordon landscape painting as a cover illustration.
A third child, a daughter named Mollie Anne, was born prematurely in Montreal on March 14, 1945, she lived only a few hours. Eric was in St. John's, Newfoundland at the time with the R.C.N.
The 1945 A.A.M. had the by now customary pair of works, a landscape and a marine, no naval pictures were represented. He also had two works accepted to the 1945 R.C.A. exhibition, the aforementioned “Sinister Night” and “Clearing Weather, March”. The prices asked were $250.00 and $400.00 respectively, on a par with the best-known artists. “Sinister Night” was also chosen as part of a smaller select group for the January through June, 1946 R.C.A. tour of Western Canada.
Not surprisingly a number of Riordon’s paintings were reproduced on Christmas cards this year, his winter scenes were ideal subjects for the Christmas season.
1946-1948, Post-war and an early end
The return from the war entailed much visiting with family and friends followed by a retreat to an inn near Ste Adele for a long rest. In 1946 Riordon put into effect what must have been a plan nurtured throughout the war. He began building a custom house near Ste Adele, renovating former stables near the crest of a hill with views across the hills and valley. The main feature of the house was a large artist’s studio with enormous north and east facing windows. The family was able to move there in 1947, leaving many details to be completed in due time.
Riordon’s now regular appearances in the R.C.A. exhibitions, and his increasing popularity with the public, were rewarded with his election by the full members of the Academy to the rank of Associate Academician (A.R.C.A.). He was inducted on the seventh of November, 1947, alongside other familiar painters, Cleeve Horne, Addison Winchell Price, T.R. Macdonald, Kathleen Daly, Evan Macdonald and William Winter.
Riordon’s final exhibition at Continental Galleries and his first solo show there since 1940, was held in February of 1948, the first one to take place at the beginning of the year. It was very successful commercially as 42 of the 44 pictures offered were sold. The Governor General of Canada, Viscount Alexander, himself a talented amateur painter, was an impromptu attendee. He spent considerable time in a careful viewing of the paintings.
The 1948 A.A.M. exhibition unusually did not include any pictures by Riordon. For the first time it was not juried by fellow artists but by gallery directors, including H.O. McCurry of the National Gallery. Only 119 works were selected from over 1,400 submissions, leaving out many regular exhibitors.
The last exhibition of his work in Eric Riordon’s lifetime was as a guest artist in an exhibition of the Montreal Independent Artists Association on December 04. Other guests included Richard Jack (R.A.), Wilfrid Molson Barnes (R.C.A.) and Thurston Topham (A.R.C.A.).
Eric Riordon passed away after a brief illness on December 23, 1948, a victim of throat cancer. He was one of many young Canadian naval officers who survived their sea service on escort ships then died shortly after the war. The terrible conditions, the cold and damp, the unrelieved weariness and the stress of command took a grim toll on their health.
The funeral service for John Eric Benson Riordon was held on Monday, December 27, at Christ Church Cathedral on Sainte-Catherine Street West in Montreal and was attended by several hundred mourners. He was cremated and temporarily interred at Mount Royal Cemetery, not far from the family home. In May of 1949 his remains were moved to the Riordon family compound at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto and interred with his grandparents and other branches of the family. He and Mollie are commemorated on the impressive family monument.
The arts reviewer for the monthly magazine “The Montrealer”, who seemed to also be a personal friend, quoted Riordon in a story written shortly before his death and published the month after. The reviewer said they were drinking coffee in the living room of the house in St Adele and Riordon stated: “It seems to me that an artist can contribute a certain solidarity to the world today by seeking a sense of beauty, harmony and peace in his work; by avoiding the devious aspects of escapism; in essence by presenting something positive to combat the fearsome negation which appears to be the particular heritage of our time.”
In retrospect it can be said that Eric Riordon knew from the beginning of his career what he wanted to paint and why. He brought to others the peace and tranquility that he found in his beautiful Laurentians. When it was needed he also depicted the resolve and courage of the men of the Royal Canadian Navy fighting a just war against an implacable enemy.
Eric in his studio, probably in Ste Agathe in 1946 or 1947. A battered white ensign hangs on the wall, a memento from his service on HMCS Kenora or HMCS Fundy.