Miller Brittain, born on November 12, 1912, in Saint John, studied art under Elizabeth Russell Holt in his hometown and Harry Wickey in New York City. In 1932, he returned to Saint John, where he took up clerical and construction work, and opened an art studio on the waterfront. During this time, he painted realistic scenes of daily life in the city, often incorporating social commentary. Brittain served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II and spent two years as a war artist.
In 1941, Brittain became a founding member of the Federation of Canadian Artists. Post-war, his paintings adopted a more surreal style, focusing on biblical themes, abstract figures, nudes, and flowers. He married Connie Starr in 1951, but her death from cancer in 1958 left him heartbroken, leading to several treatments for alcoholism later in life.
Considered one of Canada’s most prolific painters, Brittain diverged from the contemporary Group of Seven’s landscape-focused art, choosing to depict working-class life in Saint John through social-realism.
In 1981, the National Film Board of Canada produced a film about his life, which won Best Overall Entry at the 1982 Atlantic Film Festival.
Brittain’s work can be found in private collections and various Canadian art galleries, including the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, the National Gallery of Canada, and the Canadian War Museum. His work has also been featured in retrospectives at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection and the National Gallery of Canada.
In January 1949, Brittain’s first major exhibit at the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John took place. Its popularity led to a series of solo shows in New York. In 1968, he received the Canadian Centennial Medal for his contribution to Canadian art. Sadly, he passed away from a stroke at 55 after struggling with alcoholism.
Today, Brittain remains an icon of the Saint John arts community. Britt’s Pub, named in his honour, is located on the ground floor of his former studio at 42 Princess St, showcasing much of his work.
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