By Professor John M. Mackenzie


Shooting the Rapids

Sir William Van Horne
Sir William Van Horne

The British colony with one of the longest traditions of European style art was Canada. This was thanks to the French some of whom had been painting the area since the seventeenth century. At the end of the eighteenth century British army topographers adn watercolourists were working in Canada as in every other part of the empire. At this stage, their work was imitative of British conventions with little distinctiveness that could have marked itself as Canadian in any way. By the late nineteenth century many Canadian patrons were looking for powerful and 'typical' landscapes which somehow conveyed the grandeur of the imperial and settler experience. In Canada, these were often supplied by, among others, the artists who were associated with the Canadian Pacific railway. Sir William Van Horne, the company's chief executive, was himself a major patron of Canadian art, but he also recognized the value of such painting for advertising purposes. Canadian art was also heavily influenced by Europe at the end of the nineteenth century: in 1893 no fewer than twenty five Canadian artists were studying in Paris. The Canadian painters were influenced by the Barbizon movement, stressing ordinary agricultural activities, and by impressionism.

The emergence of a genuinely national Canadian school had to wait until 1913 when the celebrated 'Group of Seven' came together in Ontario. Amidst some controversy and conservative criticism, they achieved their first exhibition in 1920 and were well represented at the Wembley British Empire Exhibition of 1924. This group, sometimes known as the 'Algonquin school' because of their devotions to painting the landscapes of the great Canadian shield, maintained the landscape tradition, in a country now heavily urbanized, but brought to it influences derived not only from aspects of impressionism, but also from Japanese art. Trees were rendered in spare and symbolic ways; features of the terrain were reduced to their essence.

Canadian art, in its passage to its own distinctive style, passed through a similar learning curve to the other settler colonies. A period of imitation was followed by slight deviations and experimentation before the landscapes and traditions of the local area finally managed to uniquely influence the style of the painters. Although, in the case of Canada, the influence of French styles was an additional contributing factor.

Chapters
Introduction

The Beauty in Exploration

Mythologizing Empire

Portraying India

Portraying Australia

Portraying New Zealand

Portraying South Africa

Meeting of Minds

Galleries
Beauty in Exploration

Thomas Baines

Mythologizing Empire

Elizabeth Butler

Portraying India

Portraying Canada

Portraying Australia

Sir Sidney Nolan

Portraying New Zealand

Portraying South Africa

Meeting of Minds

Suggested Reading
Painting in Canada, a History
by J. R. Harper
British Empire: The Cambridge Illustrated History
by P. Marshall


Art




Share