One of the most influential artists in the Canadian art history, Brymner was born in Greenock, Scotland, in 1855. He arrived in Canada with his parents in 1857. His father who had been in business in Scotland, suffered ill health so he chose an occupation not so confined or intense. He came to Canada to engage in farming and settled in the Quebec Eastern Townships. William was educated at St. Francis College, Richmond and Collège Ste. Thérèse de Blainville, Quebec. He next studied at the Council of Arts and Manufacturers in Montreal. In his early twenties he was employed by the chief government architect of the Dept. Of Public Works in Ottawa with the intention of becoming an architect. He travelled to Paris in 1878 for further study in drawing and painting as part of his architectural training but decided finally to become a full-time painter. Between 1878 and 1889 he studied in Paris with Tony Robert-Fleury, William Bouguereau, Jules Lefebvre, G. Boulanger, C. F. Pinot and Carolus Duran. On his return to Canada, he made his living by teaching, first at the Ottawa School of Art and then at the Art association of Montreal.
He was recognized as an outstanding teacher who inspired many of his students to become prominent Canadian artists in their own right. In his own work he was influenced by the French school of painters both classical and impressionistic. His landscapes are remarkable for their inner luminosity, detail and clarity. His travels provided him with varied subject matter and he visited England, Scotland, Belgium, Ireland, France, Italy, and western Canada. He shared his love of landscape with fellow artists J. W. Morrice and Maurice Cullen and sketched with them at St. Anne de Beaupré and Ile d’Orléans. Brymner is remembered as a great artist and teacher. Among Brymner’s students were: Wilfred Molson Barnes, Clarence A. Gagnon, Prudence Heyward, Edwin Holgate, Lilias Torrence Newton, Hal Ross Perrigard, Robert Pilot, Sarah Robertson and Anne Savage. His work is found in many collections and Museums including the Musée du Québec and the Montreal Fine art Museum.