Coburn’s paintings of horses hauling logs through snowy woodlands, and of sleighs on sunny, snow-covered country roads, captured the spirit of his rural home in the Eastern townships of Quebec.
He frequently sketched horses as a boy and was soon encouraged to build upon this natural talent by respected Canadian poet, Dr. William Henry Drummond, who sent him to Montreal.
Coburn began his training at the Arts & Crafts School in Montreal.Later, he would study under Carl Hecker in New York; at the Ecole des Beaux Arts under Jean-Leon Gerome; under Henry Tonks at the Slade School, London; and under Abrecht de Vrient in Antwerp.In Antwerp, he would meet his wife where they shared a studio for over twenty years.
After a return to Canada and a visit with his longtime friend Dr. Drummond, Coburn was hired as principal illustrator for a leading New York publishing house that published Drummond’s literary works. At the height of his success, around 1914, his friend Maurice Cullen encouraged Coburn to explore painting with coloured oils.
Inspired in part by Jacob Maris oil paintings of horses and plowman, and J.H. Weissenbruch’s luminous rolling skies, he hired farmers and their team of horses to pose for studies and sketches with which he could capture the essential line and rhythm of a composition to be transferred later to a canvas.Soon, Coburn specialized in paintings of horse and oxen-drawn sleds in Laurentian and Eastern Township settings.He kept his very first canvas and eager collectors purchased those paintings that followed, ultimately preventing Coburn from ever holding a one-man show.