Nicholas de Grandmaison’s life took a circuitous journey from his patrician roots in Russia to his induction into a First Nations tribe on the Canadian prairies. Educated in Moscow, he studied art, music, history, languages, cartography and topography before joining the army at age 19. During World War I, Nicholas de Grandmaison was interned in a German POW camp for four years. He studied at the St. John’s Wood Art School in London after the war, and later in Paris. He immigrated to Winnipeg in 1923, where he worked at a printing and engraving firm doing portraits mainly of children.
Nicholas de Grandmaison’s first exposure to Canada’s natives took place in 1930 when he travelled to The Pas in northern Manitoba. Immediately struck by his affinity with the native communities, he devoted the rest of his life to documenting them. In the 1930s and 1940s Nicholas de Grandmaison began painting and sculpting portraits of the Plains Indians of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Southern Alberta. In 1940, he settled with his family in Banff, then a tiny community near the border of BC and Alberta, and travelled widely in his quest. He was elected into the Royal Canadian Academy in 1942.
Nicholas de Grandmaison, whose honours include the Order of Canada, died in Calgary in 1978 and was buried in the Peigan Reserve where he had been made an Honorary Chief. His work is represented in public and private collections across Canada.