William Valentine was born in Whitehaven, England in 1798, and arrived in Halifax in 1818. He first advertised his services as a portrait and landscape painter in 1819, offering to teach “drawing in all its branches” at 4 Dockyard Street.
With his cousin James Bell as co-partner, he offered, “ship, sign, house, and ornamental painting” between 1820 and 1824, a practice he continued alone after Bell left for Saint John. In today’s terms, that would suggest a step downward in his career, but at that time, the house painting profession included the creation of over mantel and other wall murals and this brought him to the attention of Joseph Howe.
Valentine filled a void left by the departure of well-known portraitist Robert Field from Halifax in 1816. Harry Piers, writing in 1914 about Valentine's local fame and commercial success, stated "Perhaps no local artist's name was more familiar to the last generation than that of William Valentine, who from the first quarter of the nineteenth century until his death in 1849, laboured in our midst, preserving the lineaments of many notable persons, more particularly during the period of 1830-49." During the 1830s and 1840s Valentine travelled throughout Atlantic Canada offering his services as a portrait painter and later photographer until his death in Halifax. Additional studies in England in 1836 provided Valentine with more facility and polished brush work, as is seen in his later work. Valentine introduced the daguerreotype process, which he learnt in Paris, to Halifax around 1842 -- thus becoming our first photographer, and among the first in Canada.
His works are in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the National Archives of Canada, the New Brunswick Museum, and the Dartmouth Heritage Museum. The largest collections of his paintings and photographs reside in Nova Scotia at the Nova Scotia Museum and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, many of his best paintings were destroyed in a studio fire shortly before his death.