Canadian Painting

John E. Staley November 1 1912

Canadian Painting

John E. Staley November 1 1912

Canadian Painting

John E. Staley

It is somewhat difficult to review Canadian Painting in the course of a single article. Yet that is what the writer has attempted in this brief but racy sketch covering the history and development of fine art in Canada 'during the past two hundred and fifty years. A general survey of the past is presented together with several illustrations representative of the best work of present day artists. It is hoped that the treatise will stimulate renewed interest in art in this country and that it may be followed with other sketches in which the career and works of prominent Canadian artists now in the public eye may be featured.

IT WAS not yesterday that the fairy Fine Art set up her boudoir in Canada. She has been arranging ravishing toilettes in this beauteous land for quite two hundred and fifty years. At her Court, through many generations, companies of distinguished wielders of pencil, chalk and brush—foreign, naturalized and native-born—have been busily engaged in offering of their best for the decoration of her foyers.

Many capable artists have worked in coteries around Quebec, Montreal and Toronto, and within the boundaries of the three Maritime Provinces, through all,these many years. Schools of painb ing these cities scarcely may be called rather are they camping grounds in the painted-pageant progress of the Fine Arts.

The first pictorial work done in Canada was by no less a famous hero than the intrepid Champlain. The diaries he kept and the books he wrote he illustrated with thumb-nail sketches, maps and more ambitious drawings in their margins. These are chiefly Indian in character; they are not crudities, but evidence a feeling for form and a sense of color quite commendable. Then came the cultured teaching Jesuits with their lessons in pictures, for savage eyes

—pictures illustrative of Holy Writ and the precepts of Holy Church. The demand was ever in excess of the supply. Colored prints, together with illustrated religious booklets, and picture flysheets, and more ambitious paintings for the adornment of the altars of the churches, were carried by the missionary fathers from Old France to the New. Many of these reverend pioneers also set to work to draw and paint pictures and ex-votos on the spot—crudely done for the most part but generally marked with suggestiven ess. A considerable

number of these early aids to Christianity are preserved in the Province of Quebec; they are painted on wood, on bark, on canvas, on parchment, on paper, and on other materials.

The name of Père André Perron stands foremost upon this roll of painters, properly so called, on Canadian soil. He landed in Canada 1663. La Mère de L’Incarnation, in her “Lettres” speaks thus of him : “He preaches all day and paints all night.” She alludes to the reverend artist’s skill in two directions— his work as an illustratorminiaturist of “The Hours” and other religious books, and also of his wider rangé* in fresco on conven tuai.ywalls, Little, alas, of any of Father Perron’s

work remains. He was treacherously killed bv an Indian scouting party 1673.

In the same Society of Jesus was Père François Luc a Recollet, born at Amiens in 1620. Coming to Canada almost immediately after his noviate he decorated the Recollet Chapel in Quebec, and undoubtedly did similar work elsewhere, all of which has per-

ished. Ilis subjects were ecclesiastical, but he was influenced by the precursors of the School of Antoine Watteau in his composition and arrangement. He returned to France in 1685. Two other missionary artists have inscribed their names on the annals of early Canadian art — Pères Hugues Pommier and Pierre Leber. The former landed at Quebec in 1663—a companion of Père Perron. In 1676 he was busy at Point Levis and along the Côte de Beaupré, painting panels for churches and canvases for the brethren and for some of

the better-to-do laity. He went back to France and died in 1686. The latter was stationed at Montreal. In 1700 he became a brother in the Ordre des Frères Charrons, and painted portraits with great success—among the rest that of La Mère Marguerite Bourgeois, Foundres of the Congrégation des Dames de la Visitation. Père Leber died at Montreal in 1707.

We must remember that all through the seventeenth century there was an influx of refugee French gentry into Canada. Driven from their native land by political upheavals, they carried with them, among their household goods, many pictures painted by the artists they admired in France. Many of them too had artistic proclivities, and, as opportunity offered, applied themselves to the graphic arts and painting. Examples of their work may be found almost everywhere in the older settled places in the Province of Quebec,

In 1720 there came to Canada a noted etcher - draughtsman - engraver from Paris — Henri Gravelot — otherwise Gravelot d’Anville. He had been

a pupil of Watteau and Restout, and he brought with him to Quebec several canvases by them and other French roasters. He worked in Canada until

1727 when he returned to France, but his interest in the new country was not lessened for he became an enthusiastic agent for despatching works of art

across the seas. Jean Antoine André Créqui was a contemporary of Gravelot —born in 1749 he visited Canada and remained there until his death in 1780.

Many of his altar pieces and wall frescoes remain in churches in and around Quebec.

With Chevalier de Beaucour began a line of Canadian-born artists. To be

sure his profession was that of arms— he was a military engineer under Frontenac — but, laying aside his lethal weapons for awhile, he set off to study art in France—the first of all students from America. He does not appear to

have done much more than make excellent copies of the great masterpieces, but, with these, he returned to Canada and bestowed his treasures upon institutions and individuals with like tastes as

his own. He was appointed to the post of Governor of Montreal. He survived the struggle for supremacy between England and France, and, accepting the status quo after the war, went on quietly painting under the new régime,

Due perhaps to him as well as to Gravelot is the fact that the Province of Quebec is remarkably rich in examples of such masters as Philippe de Champaign. Le Soeur, Lebrun, the Coypels,

Restout, Nattier, the Vernets, I. and C. Parrocel, the Van Loos, N. Poussin, Mignard, Bourdon, Boucher, de la Tour and other French painters.

After the British conquest French-

Canadian painters worked on calmly and improvingly. Louis Dulongpre, who worked at Montreal, 1793-1830, has left numbers of portraits of notable people of the province in oil and pastel,

quite after the Nattier manner and in his colors. The technique is not remarkable, but the historical interest is considerable. Born in 1795 Joseph Legaré, who became a Councillor of State

of Quebec, was an enthusiastic art-lover and collector, and became proficient with his pencil and his brush. A picture of his obtained the first gold medal ever awarded of painting in Canada— given by the Society of Artists of Montreal—the fust association of the kind in Canada. Dying he bequeathed his collection of drawings and pictures to the Laval Seminary in Quebec—that noble institution founded by the first Bishop of Canada, Monseigneur Laval-Montrnorency.

Two other names of Canadian painters stand out from the great company of limners—Antoine Plamandon, born in Quebec in 1803. He went to Paris to study art and entered Guerin’s studio, where his chief friends were Gercicault and Ary Scheffer—their art affected his. Back he came to his Canadian home and began to paint portraits, historical subjects and religious themes.

Much of his work remains of course, for he lived until the end of the century.

His arrangement, technique and finish

are vastly superior to any who had preceded him—a clear proof of the happy progress of Canadian art. Cornelius Ivreighof, a Dutchman, educated in Bavaria, came to Montreal in 1849. He was, perhaps, the first artist of note who painted Canadian life and scenery. His pictures were small and bought up by officers of British regiments; and, if not remarkable for skill and dash, they are valuable topographically and historically, whilst in genre they are interesting.

There were three painters of the older generation, who have made their mark most strongly upon the art of Canada— Adolphe Vogt, born in Quebec in 1842, he studied in France, and came back to paint animals and landscapes, bold in execution and finely colored; Allan A. Edson, born at Stanbridge in 1846', went to France and England, where he became an adept at landscape painting, and returned to Canada to limn her beauties upon his canvases; and Wyatt Eaton, born in 1849 at Phillipsburg—

his chief master was Gérome in Paris, and his style genre and portraits. These men all died but yesterday.

So far painting in Canada had been confined almost exclusively to residents in Lower Canada, but in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick Art began to show her light, where she held by one h'and Gilbert Stuart Newton (1793-1835), who did genre, very well, and James Field, a portraitist (1812-1868), and by the other Robert Parker, a painter of miniatures on ivory (1798-1850), and Charles C. Ward with minutely painted suites of Indian studies (18151896). Ontario lagged behind in her welcome of the Fine Arts. The first artist of Upper Canada was the son of one of Governor Simcoe’s gardeners, Paul Kane, who was born at York (Toronto) in 1810. He went off to Europe to study in the schools of art. On his leturn he drew and painted Indian scenes, and took infinite pains in his work. Daniel Fowler, born in Kent, 1810, came to Toronto in 1843. Lie painted things he saw upon his ex-

tensive travels, and taught drawing, taking up the pencil old Edward Drury had laid down. George Berthron, a Viennese, settled in Toronto the year after Fowler carne, and painted portraits in oil and pastel. They both died in 1894.


If these artistic priests .and painting laymen were not exactly Makers of Canadian Art, they were at all events the precursors, or thtf scouts, of the army of Canadian artists. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries they and those they ministered to in things sacred and profane, kept their eyes fixed upon the East whence they and theirs had come. To return to their native land was the fervent hope of every one of them, and few regarded the virgin soil they tilled, the forest lands they cleared, and the dwellings they erected, in any other light than temporary habitations. To very few, if indeed to any, did the idea of .settling permanently in New France

present itself. Everything around them —their language, their religion, their dress, their habits, their occupations and their possessions were just those they had adopted in their old country.

But, hark! a homing cry from out the West, a loud cry, and insistent, smote upon their ears—“This land is yours, your very own, hold it, till it, and thrive upon it!” Sons buried fathers in the new soil, mothers brought forth children of the land, and work and play fitted into novel situations on the spot. The consciousness of new horizons, new hopes, and new enterprises, grew in strength and solidity. For none was this cry of the land more incentive than for men and women of artistic tastes and culture. Forbears had been satisfied to look at pictures of

the past—the love of picture-story moved striplings mightily; not one but many living artists in Canada to-day attribute the first bud of their art rosetree to the effect made upon them by the sight of some old oil painting when they were children. The new race of British-French-Canadians, however, began to stare right into the face., of nature. r '

The land of the Lady of the Bnows was good to look to—magnificent mountains reared their verdant hoary heads, superb rivers, with blue and greep and silver water, flowed impressively along, resplendent lakes spread wide reflections multi-colored,y grand virgin forests covered land with untold treasure, and rolling prairies, sun-kissed, Were prophetic of ample nourishment. If

the coasts to the north were ice-bound they were illuminated by pure skies, and the air was invigorating. Life wTas free and noble and inspiration came to all. Nymphs of the forest glade and sirens on the rocky shore danced and sang into men’s and women’s hearts the poetry of Nature’s land and sea. Things of grandeur and of beauty ever yield impressive joy and un mingled gladness, and so art-students had not far to look for subjects new and ravishing. Here and there, and far and wide, pioneer painters set up their easels and took toll of what they saw and felt.

The natural beauties of the Canadas, the genre of market, quay and hamlet, bore draughtsmen on, and the romances of Indian tribes and settlements stole their hearts away. Character entered

into the painting schemes of all who used pastel, pencil or pigment; and local color found expression.

Already, and for many a year gone by, painters in Canada have been reproducing on stretched canvases the picture pageant of their beloved land. The characters and numbers are absolutely reproductive of the fascination of the fair land of the Maple Leaf, and such as only sons of the soil know well. Their work cannot be mistaken for labored souvenirs or cliches of other lands: they may and rightly should display signs and tokens of good gained by study in foreign schools of art.

This may sound pedantic, but rhyme and reason point one way—the cult of a National style—unlike in its expression anything known in the Old World

studios. This cult is bearing proof today, and the work of our living artists is worthy to be placed by the side of, and compared with, the work of foreign contemporaries. It is necessary to proclaim this fact aloud, to correct prejudice and ignorance and to put an end to pessimism in dealing with achievements of the present day. “To have a good conceit of oneself” is essentially a personal practical duty. Admittedly Canada has no artist of the “Grand Style,” of which Frederick Leighton

was the highest exponent, nor has she any one able to paint the nudes of the British and French schools proper.

Jack Canuck is, however, quite as good a fellow as Jack Corot, or Jack Rosseau. We have our Israels and Mauves, our Rembrandts and Franz Hals, our Millets and Constants, our Manets and Renoirs—in embryo.

Evidences of the excellence of the brush work of Canadian painters is offered convincingly at the numerous ex-

hibitions of pictures which are held annually in all the great centres of population. To state a case is easy— the display of the work of Canadian artists in this year’s Canadian National Exhibition was of such merit, that in no land could there have been gathered together a more complete and representative show. Canadian pictures held their own, class by class, with the British, French and American contributions.

For obvious reasons the names of living painters have found no places in this article, nor has any attempt been made to advocate special lines of painting by preference. Art is as broad and free as the air we breathe. At the same time the illustrations are chosen from the works of living artists. Each one is characteristic of a special feature in the ritual of Canadian National life and art. Portraiture is also, for obvious reasons, not represented here.