Sybil Jacobson: Painting in the West


80 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography
ISBN 0-919957-14-5





Reviewed by Ellen Pilon

Ellen Pilon is a library assistant in the Patrick Power Library at Saint
Mary’s University in Halifax.


Born in England, Sybil Jacobson (1881-1953) moved to Saskatchewan with her first husband in 1912. From around 1918, after the early death of her husband, Sybil lived with Dr. Jacobson, with whom she had two children and whom she eventually married (1935). Her art credentials include studying at the Lambeth School, three years at the Royal Academy Schools (where one of her teachers was John Singer Sargent), and a few years in Paris. The 14 black-and-white reproductions of her paintings included in this book suggest she had considerable talent. Yet she is virtually unknown as a Canadian painter. In her penultimate chapter, Alexander tries to place Jacobson in the Canadian art scene and to appraise her art. Although talented, Jacobson remained Barbizon and static at a time when art movements elsewhere were anything but traditional.

Included in the book are an informative author note, contents, acknowledgments, a list of plates, and a selected bibliography. The selected bibliography lists very general works on art, nothing on Jacobson in particular and nothing suggesting where Alexander obtained her material. The acknowledgments offer a few clues: Jacobson’s daughter, Johanna Christy, “without whose unstinting co-operation this book could not have been completed”, seems to have been the source of much of the information. The List of Plates provides title, medium (all are oil), size, and owner for the paintings. There is no list of Jacobson’s paintings, although within the text the contents of several exhibition catalogues are recorded. Alexander has not seen all of the paintings and has not been able to locate many of them. No page numbers are given in the List of Plates, an inconvenient omission.

Alexander has gathered some interesting biographical information on Jacobson, mostly subjective observations of her daughter Johanna, but her organization and presentation of this information are deficient. The text is choppy, with tidbits whimsically tossed in here and there. For example, in a paragraph discussing the B.C. Artists’ Exhibition of 1937 we learn that Tiggi (her son) returned from overseas, “invalided home with rheumatic fever.” There is no other reference to Tiggi’s travel overseas, why or when he went or in what way he was “invalided home.” Similarly, Dr. Jacobson is mentioned, then forgotten, then mentioned again in such a way that the reader does not know whether he is dead yet, just sick, or living elsewhere. Chronology is confused throughout, compounding the problems posed by the choppiness. Some of the comments are remarkably trite: “noting that the painting is only 14 inches by 11 ½ inches, one is very much impressed with the painterly qualities of the study.”

Although the book offers some useful biographical information on an obscure and forgotten Canadian artist, it is too dull, lifeless, and confusing to interest biography buffs.


Alexander, Mary G., “Sybil Jacobson: Painting in the West,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 15, 2024,