Canadian Painters & The Country That Inspired Them
It is no secret that Canada has a rich history of talented artists, specifically artists who have documented the wilderness, wildlife and beauty of this country. Whether it was artists from the 19th century such as Paul Kane or Cornelius Krieghoff or the famous Group of Seven from the 20th century, or even artists from the 21st century like Norval Morrisseau, these artists made a point of going out into the different landscapes that Canada provided and did their best to convey everything they saw into their paintings.
One thing that I always loved about all of these different Canadian wilderness painters is that no matter how far apart they may have been separated by history, they all took a very similar approach towards their work. The large and elaborate canvases they painted, which now hang in museums and art galleries across Canada are the end result of a long artistic process. All of these canvases would have begun as simply a sketch done by the artists out in nature.
Paul Kane was born in County Cork, Ireland in 1810, and immigrated in the early 1820’s with his family to Canada to settle down in York, which would soon become downtown Toronto. Kane went to school at Upper Canada College, and after graduation moved to Cobourg, Ontario to work as a furniture painter. He would soon set his sights on improving his craft and in 1841 embarked on a two-year trip throughout Europe. Kane recognized the importance of visiting Europe to become a truly great painter, and even when he could not afford to be enrolled in art school, spent his time touring through museums and galleries throughout the continent. By 1845 he had returned to Toronto and had begun to make preparations for his now-famous trip to the West. Paul Kane took two trips to Western Canada during his lifetime and these trips provided him with most of the material on which to base his paintings. The first of these trips started in 1946, lasted over two years and took Kane all the way to the Pacific Coast. His second trip took place in 1849 where he travelled as far west as the Red River Settlement.
Cornelius Krieghoff is another Canadian artist who worked roughly during the same time as Paul Kane. Krieghoff was born in Amsterdam in 1815 but like Kane, he immigrated to North America very early in his life, and eventually arrived in Montreal in the 1840s. Not only did he operate during the same time as Kane, but he also had much the same goal in mind, of trying to capture a Canadian landscape that was still very much ‘undocumented’. It is important to note that while there had obviously been people, Aboriginals and Europeans alike, living and working in some of the areas he and Kane were painting for many years, these places were still viewed as a great, unknown wilderness. Only a small minority of the population had reason to be working in such remote areas, but to the patrons of their art, which is to say people living in the larger cities in early Ontario and Quebec, places such as the prairies and Northern Ontario and Quebec were still very much unknown.
The Kane-Krieghoff Connection
Just like Kane, Krieghoff understood the knowledge that could be gained from the European masters of art, and therefore took a similar trip to Europe where he spent time sketching some of the great works in the Louvre. The major difference that becomes quickly apparent between Kane and Krieghoff is that Cornelius Krieghoff’s paintings tend to feature much more human activity. This is best explained by the fact that Krieghoff spent most of his life in Canada in Quebec, Montreal, and Toronto while Kane had a keen interest in the Canadian prairies. Despite this difference, they both shared the desire to replicate what they saw around them everyday.
Paul Kane, for example, made many sketches throughout his travels across the Canadian prairies. Some of these sketches would have been of an entire landscape that he was travelling across, while others would be more focused on a single element that he came across, such as a bison or a hunter. When he returned from his travels to his Toronto home and studio, he compiled all of these images into much larger and more detailed compositions. All in all he would create 100 different oil-on-canvas paintings that were sponsored and paid for by a single benefactor.
Paul Kane at the ROM
Two paintings that are now on display at the ROM, Fishing by Torch Light and French River Rapids provide great examples of this. Alongside the oil-on-canvas painting that has been on display at the museum for some time, now sits the oil-on-paper sketches that Kane produced to inspire these paintings. By looking between these two scenes, one can see that for all the details added to the finished product, there is much that was carried over from the original sketches Kane made.
Kane is famous for the way that he combined images from across his adventures into a single scene and this in large part is due to the Classical and Romantic training that he received over several years spent at art schools in Europe. It is important to keep this in mind when viewing any of his paintings, because while everything in the scene is based on one of his sketches, the scene painted may not have unfolded exactly as depicted. Paul Kane often exercised his artistic freedom to turn a sometimes bleak and always-vast prairie landscape into a scene bustling with activity. This was not necessarily because he was trying to mislead any of his viewers, but more so because he was trained in the dominating artistic tendencies of his time. This meant that, hypothetically, a bison Kane viewed in Manitoba could be painted being trailed by a hunter from Alberta, travelling across a field that he once saw in Saskatchewan.
The Group of Seven
This famous group of Canadian landscape painters, grew to prominence between the 1920’s and 30’s. The seven artists belonging to the group were Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald and Frederick Varley. It is also worth noting that Tom Thomson and Emily Carr, while not ‘officially’ belonging to the Group of Seven are commonly associated with the group, and today their paintings are often found side by side with group members in art galleries throughout Canada. Despite being removed almost 100 years from Paul Kane, it is remarkable how these artists approached the Canadian landscape in almost the same manner.
The Group of Seven artists were noted for their desire to consciously create a distinctly ‘Canadian’ school of art. They believed that this would be best established by going out into nature and confronting Canada’s landscape directly. In many ways, the Group of Seven had a very valid point. Though there may have been Canadian artists such as Kane and Krieghoff documenting the Canadian landscape, there was little that distinguished their prairie paintings from similar ones done by American artists like George Catlin. To ensure that their art remained truly and distinctly Canadian, the Group of Seven artists began their career by focusing on the Canadian Shield and Northern Ontario, and more specifically the Algonquin National Park area as the background for their early paintings.
Sketch first, Paint later
Much like Paul Kane, the Group of Seven produced primarily oil-on-canvas or oil-on-wood paintings. Also like Paul Kane, these paintings began with a much smaller, less-detailed original sketch made out in nature. In many of the places where Group of Seven paintings are on display in Canada, such as the AGO in Toronto, the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg, or the National Gallery in Ottawa, the sketches can be found next to, or at least near the completed painting.
These sketches were usually done on a small piece of wood, only a couple of inches across, and used a larger range of colours than can be found in Kane’s sketches, but they are still far away from the detail that would be found in their finished canvases. Just like Kane, the Group of Seven artists would produce these sketches on the spot so that they could be worked on and developed more thoroughly in their studios.
Norval Morrisseau /Copper Thunderbird
Another and more modern Canadian artist is Norval Morrisseau, who, being born in 1932, rose to prominence long after the Group of Seven movement had passed. Norval Morrisseau has been dubbed the ‘Picasso of the North’, and is almost unanimously credited with initiating the ‘Woodlands’ style or school of art. This style of art was a way for Morrisseau to pass on traditional Anishinaabe stories, beliefs and values that he was taught by his grandfather. More than this, the style allowed Morrisseau to combine these long-standing traditions with the constantly-changing world. The paintings by Morrisseau tend to be much more abstract than the more classically-inclined Kane and Krieghoff, but there still exists the same driving force, to capture the world around the artist.
In fact, there is a quote from Morrisseau which stands next to his painting Migration in the ROM, which sums up his approach well. It reads:
“We do not know how the native people reached this Canada. Perhaps they came across the Bering Strait gradually in single family groups. There are legends about a migration in single and family groups; this is the picture which recalls this legend.”
While Morrisseau may have been delving into his personal beliefs and traditions for direction, (rather than conforming to the traditional European schools of painting), it is still his perspective on Canada that comes through in his art.
Same Landscape, Different Artists
Painters like Kane, Krieghoff, Morrisseau and the Group of Seven represent only a handful of the many artists that have been inspired by the natural landscape of Canada and have wanted to express it in their art. What I enjoy about these examples though are the things they share in common. They may have had different individual motivations for their work, but all of them being Canadian artists, they all had the same landscape to face. They also all took the same approach to the challenge of confronting this huge country, with all of its different ecosystems and environments, with huge mountains but also rolling, flat prairies, with animals and humans alike wandering throughout the background, and turning it into a single painting.
Join us this Saturday for Canadian Art Day where you can let the collections of the ROM inspire your own watercolour painting. Whether you like the animals up in the Schad Gallery or the sculptures in the Canada First People’s Gallery, grab a clipboard and stool and sketch all the details you’ll need to remember later. Then you can take your sketches and expand them into a more intricate, and colourful painting!
More information on our featured artists below!
- Metis Running Buffalo - Paul Kane
- Fishing by Torch Light Sketch - Paul Kane
- Fishing by Torch Light - Paul Kane
- French River Rapids Sketch - Paul Kane
- French River Rapids - Paul Kane
- Migration - Norval Morrisseau
- Encampment, River Winnipeg - Paul Kane
- Quebec from Pointe Levis - Cornelius Krieghoff
- Bringing in the Logs - Cornelius Krieghoff
- Owl’s Head, Lake Memphremagog - Cornelius Krieghoff
- All photos Chris Miller, 2013.
Post by Chris Miller, ROMKids Studio Assistant. Last updated: December 4th, 2013.
Roman Snake Bracelet
Sinuously coiled snake bracelets have enjoyed a long history. These Roman versions were developed from bracelets used in the Greek world since the 4th century BCE. -Display text
More ancient history!
- The Proud Lion by Robert Mason
- Liz Butler Draws The ROM: The Cats Of Ancient Egypt!
- The Ancient Roman Dagger by Robert Mason
Written by @kironcmukherjee. Last update: December 3rd, 2013.
A child’s armour from ~1550 Germany. Armour was incredibly expensive, so a family outfitting their child in this was not looking to send him to war but instead attempting to show off their status and wealth to others.
More on the Mediaeval World!
- An Introduction To Warriors & Weapons
- Why did the crossbow become extinct on the battlefield?
- The Italian Barbut Helmet
- Tilting Helmet
Written by @kironcmukherjee. Last update: December 2nd, 2013.
Code of Hammurabi
One of the most important texts in human history, the Code of Hammurabi. The Code dates back to ~1770BCE and preserves 282 Babylonian laws including the famous “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth”.
#WeaponWednesday: The “Djanbīyya” Dagger!
The Middle Eastern two-edged curved dagger is one of the most recognizable weapon forms. Typically it is known by the Arab term djanbīyya sometimes Anglicised as “jambiya”, or also often the Arabic term khandjar, but these curved daggers are found across the Middle East. Curved daggers have a long history, the famous sica of the ancient Balkans which spread around the Mediterranean in the Roman era is similarly curved, but was sharp only on the inner curved edge. The earliest djanbīyya seem to be 16th century and found in Turkey and Iran, although its true origins may in fact be Arabia. The curve makes it very good for most styles of knife-fighting (which I discuss in an earlier blog), but it would probably be a problematic weapon for a thrust through armour. This may explain the spread of the form in the gunpowder age, when armour was less common on the battlefield. Essentially it is ideal for a draw-cut across unprotected flesh, or a thrust into unprotected vitals.
- Images 1, 2: This djanbīyya is from Mughal India from about the 18th century, and is decorated with “koftgari" gilding, in which thin gold wire is hammered onto the steel surface (2004x5.151). Notice the "koftgari" gilding, with fine gold wire hammered into the steel surface.
- Image 3: Djanbīyya from 18th century Iran (909.64.36.A-B)
- Image 4: Djanbīyya from early 20th century Yemen (948.1.429.A-B), the Yemeni craftmen made extensive use of silver to make their elaborate daggers.
- Image 5: Early 20th centurydjanbīyya acquired by ROM archaeologist T. Cuyler Young Jr. during his travels in Iran. (2005.95.36.1-2)
- Robert Mason is a ROM archaeologist. See his previous posts HERE. Follow him on twitter HERE.
- Original post found HERE.
- All images by ROM Photography.
Post by Robert Mason. Last updated: October 21st, 2013
The Italian Barbut!
Above is an Italian Barbut helmet from ~1450. The smooth rounded surface helped to reduce the impact from striking blows. The relatively short helmet length and the t-shaped opening on the face increased the vision and mobility of the soldier, helping them in combat.
The Barbut styled helmet has inspired many fantasy worlds such as Lord of the Rings and Star Wars (see Boba Fett)!
Interesting fact, this guy is actually on long term loan from the Met! #themoreyouknow
Eye of Horus pumpkin!
Check out this awesome Eye of Horus pumpkin from our first annual Pumpkin Carving Jam. The Eye of Horus was an ancient Egyptian symbol for protection. It was found often on various funerary arrangements for use in the afterlife. It’s also looks AWESOME on a pumpkin.
Written by @kironcmukherjee. Last update: October 27th, 2013.
#WeaponWednesday: A Romano-Egyptian Sword Hilt
This week’s weapon (910.175.328) is actually a part of a weapon, but a very important one, acquired before 1910 in Cairo by Charles Currelly and presently in the Eaton Gallery of Rome. It is the cast bronze hilt of a sword. It depicts a bird’s head, which is actually the Horus falcon, as it has the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt on its head. Such influences from Ancient Egypt were common in Ptolomaic and Roman Egypt.
The best known parallel we have to this sword grip are the hilts of swords depicted as being carried by the Emperor Diocletian and the Tetrarchy, dated to about 300 AD; but these and other known Roman swords are clearly eagles. The eagle was the primary symbol of the Roman army from the time of the reforms of Marius in 104 BC, but Horus is far more ancient, being an important god in Predynastic Egypt (before 3,200 BC). As the religion and pantheon of Ancient Egypt grew and synthesised with political unification, Horus remained important. Under the influence of the monotheistic Achaemenid Persians, who ruled Egypt between 525-402 BC and again in 343-332 BC, Egyptian religion seemed to become more centered around the Osiris-Isis-Horus trinity. This developed further under the Ptolomies (332-30 BC), with Osiris becoming known as Serapis and the child Horus known as Harpocrates. The Ptolomies typically had an image of Zeus in the form of an eagle standing on thunder-bolts on their coinage (see below), which may explain the continuity of the imagery of Horus as falcon. Under the Romans this trinity of the father Osiris/Serapis, the mother Isis, and their son the forgiving Horus/Harpocrates, became so popular that Augustus tried to restrict its growth. However, later Romans embraced these Egyptian deities, and under Domitian, emperor from 81 to 96 AD, temples were built to Isis and Serapis in Rome. In this time the symbolism of Horus as the embodiment of the pharaoh or the Emperor, the king that has come to judge, became very important. While Isis, Serapis and Harpocrates became Romanised in their appearance (see this beautiful vase in the ROM collection - note the little crown on Harpocrates’ head), Horus in his personification of rule retained his traditional falcon-headed appearance. Statues of Horus in Roman armour exactly as deified emperors were depicted became popular (the British Museum has two, one standing, the other sitting , the latter one being the subject of an interesting study of its pigments - note the crown is missing but otherwise closely resembles the ROM’s pommel). The symbolism of Horus as the vanquisher of Evil carried on perhaps into the Christian period, judging by a 4th century AD depiction in the Louvre that looks just like St. George and the Dragon.
So it is probably in this context that our sword grip was made. This association with the ruler might suggest that this was actually an Emperor’s sword, although it could possibly have been worn by a statue of one!
Photo information & image credits
- Romano-Egyptian sword hilt number 910.175.328 (ROM Photography)
- Detail of Diocletian’s eagle-headed sword grip, from Diocletian and the Tetrarchy, circa 300 (Wikipedia Commons)
- Bronze coin of Ptolemy VII (145-116 B.C.), Mint of Kition, Cyprus 119/8 B.C. (949X162.6 - ROM Photography)
- Robert Mason is a ROM archaeologist. See his previous posts HERE. Follow him on twitter HERE.
- Original post found HERE.
Post byRobert Mason. Last updated: October 9th, 2013
Dan Rahimi and International Archaeology Day!
Royal Ontario Museum Vice President of Programs, Dan Rahimi, took some out of his busy schedule to come to talk to families for International Archaeology Day! An archaeologist by trade, he studies the beginning of human settled society in the Middle East. It’s special to see senior management come out, back up our programs, and talk science and history with kids!
— Kiron/ROMKids (@ROMKids)
Written by @kironcmukherjee. Last update: October 21st, 2013.
International Archaeology Day 2013
Thanks to everyone who came out for International Archaeology Day at the Museum. We had a ton of fun taking part in this world wide event! The @ROMAncient and @romkids crew have been working on this project since seemingly the end of last year’s IAD, so it was great to see it work out well!
The most important thing about this event is inspiring kids and their families in the wonderful field of archaeology. We brought out seasoned archaeologists from all over Toronto, as well as organizations with a specialty in the field, to communicate with visitors through objects, crafts, discussions and games. For the first time, we also engaged the public though a play test of video games designed in Toronto and based on the ROM’s galleries with our Ancient Arcade. It’s important to identify that children can be inspired through all sort of mediums, whether it’s a talk with a professional, a simulated archaeology dig or a video game.
What I loved the most was seeing families jump from each activity to the next, seemingly more interested in the event with every program they took part in!
Big thanks to all our special guests!
- The Archaeological Institute of America (Toronto chapter), Archaeological Services Inc., Ontario Archaeological Society, and the University of Toronto!
- Our reenactors, from the 1812 doctors starting Dr Dunnfore to our soldiers!
- The entire Gamercamp crew and all the game designers, for creating such awesome games. It seems the beta test was a success!
- All the ROM archaeologists that came out- Paul Denis, Kate Cooper, Dan Rahimi, and April Hawkins!
- A special thank you to the archaeology & anthropology tumblr community (including zomganthro) for all their support for this event!
Check out more of the archaeological fun we had!
— Kiron Mukherjee (@kironcmukherjee)
— gamercamp.ca (@gamercamp)
— Kris Abel (@RealKrisAbel)
— Hillary Connolly (@hillaryconnolly)
— Jaime Woo (@jaimewoo)
— Kiron/ROMKids (@ROMKids)
The games here are beta, but strong in concept. In Little Giza you build a pyramid to please a Pharaoh pic.twitter.com/C5CH5Fhtri— Kris Abel (@RealKrisAbel)
— Sonya Davidson (@TheCulturePearl)
The @ROMToronto Ancient Arcade is coming to a close! Such a fantastic time. Big thanks to the developers—their awesome work so appreciated!— gamercamp.ca (@gamercamp)
- All photos Kiron Mukherjee except for photo 1 (Michael Anderson, 2013) and photo 5 (April Hakwins, 2013).
Written by @kironcmukherjee. Last update: October 2st, 2013.