Parallel to Krieghoff's fascination with the everyday life he observed in Québec was a growing preoccupation with the western frontier. Swiss-born Peter RINDISBACHER immigrated to the RED RIVER COLONY in 1821 as a boy of 15. He was so excited by the way of life in Fort Garry that he painted a remarkable series of watercolours of the local scene, of Indians in strange dress and buffalo on the prairies in winter. Two decades later Paul KANE made himself famous by painting this same western scenery and its native people. He had been a minor Ontario portrait painter who aspired to artistic greatness and studied in Europe. Inspired by George Catlin's American Indian portraits then displayed in London, Kane conceived a similar project of picturing Canadian natives. During a celebrated wilderness trip with fur traders from Ontario to Fort Vancouver, 1846-48, he sketched the landscape and tribes he encountered. Subsequently, he painted 100 canvases based on these sketches and published an account of his travels. Kane inspired other artists. In 1872 Frederick VERNER made a similar sketching trip to picture Indians and buffalo. William G.R. HIND spent a season as an expedition artist with his scientist brother, Henry, exploring Labrador, then joined the 1862 OVERLANDERS, gold-seeking adventurers who travelled by land to the newly discovered BC goldfields.
Prior to Confederation, the documentary tradition had dominated Canadian painting, whether recording the frontier, high society in the garrison towns, or the scenic wonders of a new land. The remaining years of the 19th century were filled with growth and optimism, and saw industrialization, the Riel rebellions and western expansion. Yet little of this development was recorded by contemporary artists. As PHOTOGRAPHY took over the role of documenting society, Victorian artists escaped to an ideal world of the rural landscape. They established professional art societies, where they could exhibit, promote and sell their works, mostly in Montréal and Toronto.
Several talented artists worked in the studios of William NOTMAN, a Montréal photographer who had achieved an international reputation for his portrait photographs by the 1860s, then went on to greater heights with landscape and genre subjects. The company had its own exhibiting space and art collection, and it rapidly became the leading, if unofficial, art school in the country. There was a camaraderie among the staff as they painted in their spare time and made sketching trips to the lakes and hills of the Eastern Townships and beyond. John FRASER, an acknowledged leader, opened a branch in Toronto and was instrumental in organizing the Ontario Society of Artists, providing space in the Notman studio for the society's first annual exhibition in 1873. Associated with him were his brother-in-law, Henry Sandham, who later opened a Notman studio in Saint John, Paris-trained Allan EDSON, and Otto Jacobi, who had enjoyed an earlier career in Germany.
The search for the Canadian landscape by Notman photographers and artists was intimately connected with the railway expansion which was opening up the new Dominion. Painters had travelled from Montréal by train in the earlier years to sketch through Québec and the Matapedia Valley. Now they broadened their vision as the transcontinental line of the Canadian Pacific edged its way across the Prairies and through the Rockies. Sir William VAN HORNE, president of the railway and himself an art collector, gave artists free passes to produce promotional pictures for the CPR. Notman sent a camera crew with the work trains to detail progress through the mountains. Fraser and other artists associated with Notman went to the West to make an oil and watercolour record of the magnificent scenery. Their paintings of the West, technically brilliant and marked by photographic realism, dominated many art exhibitions until the end of the century.
Canadian art achieved new prestige with the founding of the ROYAL CANADIAN ACADEMY OF ARTS in 1880, primarily through the efforts of Governor General the marquess of LORNE and his wife Princess Louise. Lucius O'BRIEN, first president of the RCA, was swept up in this new search for the face of Canada. He visited Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, then, as the railway reached the Pacific, he travelled west to paint the mountains and the Vancouver area. Some of his finest paintings, such as his majestic views of Québec or Sunrise on the Saguenay, introduced a glowing quality which incorporated the luminism found in contemporary American painting of the Hudson River School.
On European Models
During the 1880s and 1890s Europe once again became the model for artists in Canada, and painters aspired to study in Paris academies and exhibit at the Salon. It was the conservative French and English masters, not the avant-garde, who attracted the young Canadians, men who painted heroic images in a highly finished naturalistic style. William BRYMNER and Robert HARRIS followed this path and on their return taught "in the French manner" in Montréal and Toronto. In 1883 Harris was commissioned by the federal government to paint The Fathers of Confederation. Paul PEEL was acclaimed in Paris and at home for his studies of bathers and children but demonstrated little Canadianism. George REID used the same monumental figure tradition in his scenes of rural Ontario, such as Mortgaging the Homestead.
Two young painters who derived their inspiration from their rural Canadian surroundings and who visited Europe only after they were established were Homer WATSON and Ozias LEDUC. Watson early became a celebrity when The Pioneer Mill was purchased for Queen Victoria's royal collection. Leduc lived in St-Hilaire, Qué, supporting himself from church decoration while painting still lifes and people and landscape close to him for his own satisfaction. Meanwhile in Paris the slick, narrative style of the Salon was increasingly attacked by innovative painters of the impressionist, Barbizon and Hague schools. Horatio WALKER was influenced by this naturalistic depiction of nature and, on his return to Canada, his paintings of rural scenes on Île d' ORLÉANS rapidly brought him acclaim in North America. In 1910 the National Gallery of Canada paid $10 000 for Oxen Drinking.
Maurice CULLEN and James Wilson MORRICE were among the first artists to apply the principles of French impressionism to the Canadian landscape. Cullen attracted attention in Paris before returning to spend his mature years in Québec. Criticism was harsh and sales were poor, but he exerted a tremendous influence through his teaching at the Art Association of Montreal. Morrice, independently wealthy, lived much of his life in Paris, travelled widely, befriended Henri Matisse and was influenced by James Whistler. Through annual exhibitions with the Canadian Art Club in Toronto, 1907-15, Cullen, Morrice and Marc-Aurèle de Foy SUZOR-COTÉ served as models for young artists.
The New Landscape Movement
The face of Canadian painting changed completely when a new landscape movement emerged in Toronto in the years immediately preceding WWI. Tom THOMSON died in 1917, but the remaining painters - Frank CARMICHAEL, Lawren HARRIS, A.Y. JACKSON, Franz JOHNSTON, Arthur LISMER, J.E.H. MACDONALD and F.H. VARLEY - organized the first exhibition of the GROUP OF SEVEN in 1920. "Group" subject matter and style dominated Canadian art for the next 30 years. It was bold, imaginative painting employing strident colouring and tending to postimpressionist mannerisms. It was also an art movement which aroused bitter controversy and patriotic fervour, which caught the public interest and allowed little room for serious development of divergent art styles. The group disbanded in 1933 to make way for the broader-based Canadian Group of Painters, which included artists from across the country and encouraged figure painting and modernism as well as the landscape.
Two artists working at the same time as the Group of Seven but disregarded until the late 1930s were Emily CARR and David MILNE. They worked in semi-isolation, devoted to the area in which they had grown up and pursuing their own personal vision while struggling with financial privation and lack of recognition. Carr had visited England and France and was moved by the Fauves' vigorous strokes and strident colour. On her return she painted the dense Pacific forests, Indian villages and totems with an exultant celebration of nature and its mysteries. In contrast to Carr, who began painting with renewed vigour after her meeting with the Seven, Milne had none of the national consciousness of the group but was concerned with individual aesthetic expression and painterly problems. He studied in New York and was represented at the famous Armory Show of 1913 which introduced modernism to America. Thereafter, in the Catskills and at various secluded rural locations in southern Ontario, he experimented with evocative shapes, tonal contrasts and unique picture planes, simplifying his technique to the bare minimum.
The Great Depression, combined with the continued hold of the Group on Canadian art, meant that many excellent painters were virtually ignored. Opportunities for exhibition were dominated by the academies and societies; collecting of new art was negligible; and institutional and public awareness was resistant or indifferent to change. Lionel LeMoine FITZGERALD painted canvases of intimacy and gentleness centered on his surroundings in Winnipeg, but Charles COMFORT's Young Canadian, a haunting portrait of his friend Carl SCHAEFER, best symbolized the era. In Feb 1927 an exhibition of paintings by Bertram BROOKER was held at the Arts and Letters Club in Toronto, the first exhibition of abstract art in Canada. Later that year Lawren Harris helped organize a show of abstract European art at the Art Gallery of Toronto, but it was ridiculed by critics and contemporary artists alike. Developments in Canadian painting would have to await prosperity, another world war, and a new generation of artists working in Québec.
Author J. RUSSELL HARPER
Links to Other Sites
Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery
This website showcases the unique art collection of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven at the Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery. It also offers related biographies, chronologies, and commentaries on specific paintings.
Watch the Emily Carr Heritage Minute from the Historica-Dominion Institute. See also related online learning resources.
Panoramas: The North American Landscape in Art
This collection of historical North American landscape paintings illustrates how cultural values can influence the way people perceive and interact with their natural environment. From the Virtual Museum of Canada.
Artwork Awaiting Discovery
See an online exhibit spanning three centuries of art that are part of the collection at Montréal’s Maison Saint-Gabriel Museum. Also profiles the lives of the colourful artists who painted them. From la Maison Saint-Gabriel and the Virtual Museum of Canada.
The Art Collection
This extensive collection of art from Alberta encompasses a variety of media and themes. Produced by the Alberta Heritage Digitalization Project.
View an online gallery of art by Canadian artist-explorer Paul Kane. A National Gallery of Canada website.
Visions from the Wilderness
This impressive multimedia website focuses on the art and travels of Paul Kane. Produced by CineFocus Canada.
Canadian Women Artists History Initiative
This website offers biographies and related resources about Canadian women artists born before 1925. From the Department of Art History at Concordia University in Montreal.
Frances Anne Hopkins
A profile of Canadian artist Frances Anne Hopkins. From Library and Archives Canada.
William Hind's Overlanders of '62 Sketchbook
View William Hind's sketches from his 1862 trek across Canada during the Cariboo Gold Rush. Produced by Library and Archives Canada and the Winnipeg Art Gallery.
Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec
The website for the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec features an extensive online collection of Québec works of art.
Telling Stories: Narratives of Nationhood
See what Canadian art reveals about our geographical, historical and cultural make-up. This superb multimedia presentation is accompanied by extensive K – 12 educational resources. From the Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
Horizons: Canadian and Russian Landscape Painting (1860-1940)
This virtual exhibit allows visitors to explore 250 breathtaking paintings from diverse regions of the world’s two largest countries – Canada and Russia! Also features artists' biographies. From the Virtual Museum of Canada.
Frederick Arthur Verner
A painting by Canadian artist Frederick Arthur Verner. From the Archives of Ontario.
Cybermuse: Florence McGillivray
View paintings by Canadian artist Florence H. McGillivray. From the CyberMuse website.
Heffel Gallery Limited
The website for internationally renown Heffel Gallery Limited. Check this site for numerous images of art by some of Canada's leading artists.
Art Dealers Association of Canada
The Art Dealers Association of Canada website features links to member galleries across the country. Also offers information about appraisal services, employment opportunities, their lifetime achievement award, and more.