Canadian art

Canadian art

:"This article discusses broad developments in Canadian visual art. For more specific information see List of Canadian artists or Canadian literature, Canadian music, Canadian Cinema and Canadian Culture for other information on the arts in Canada."

Traditional First Nations and Inuit Art

French Colonial Period (1665-1759)

Early explorers such as Samuel de Champlain made sketches of North American territory as they explored, but the Roman Catholic Church in and around Quebec City was the first to provide artistic patronage. [Harper, 3.] Abbé Hughes Pommier is believed to be the first painter in New France. Pommier left France in 1664 and worked in various communities as a priest before taking up painting extensively. Painters in New France, such as Pommier and Claude Francois, known primarily as Frère Luc, believed in the ideals of High Renaissance art, which featured religious depictions often formally composed with seemingly classical clothing and settings. [Harper, 4-5.] Few artists during this early period signed their works, making attributions today difficult.

Near the end of the 17th century, the population of New France was growing steadily but the territory was increasingly isolated from France. Fewer artists arrived from Europe, but artists in New France continued with commissions from the Church. Two schools were established in New France to teach the arts and there were a number of artists working throughout New France until the British Conquest. [Harper, 19-20.] Pierre Le Ber, from a wealthy Montreal family, is one of the most recognized artists from this period. Believed to be self-taught since he never left New France, Le Ber's painting is widely admired. In particular, his depiction of the saint Marguerite Bourgeoys was hailed as "the single most moving image to survive from the French period" by Canadian art historian Dennis Reid. [Reid, 11.]

While the early religious painting told little about everyday life, numerous ex-votos completed by amateur artists offer vivid impressions of life in New France. Ex-votos, or votive painting, were made as a way to thank God or the saints for answering a prayer. One of the best known examples of this type of work is "Ex-voto des trois naufragés de Lévis" (1754). Five youths were crossing the Saint-Lawrence at night when their boat overturned in rough water. Two girls drowned, weighed down by their heavy dresses, while two young men and one woman were able to hold on to the overturned boat until help arrived. Saint Anne is depicted in the sky, saving them. This work was donated to the church at Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré as an offering of thanks for the three lives saved. [Harper, 14-15.]

Early Art in British North America

The early ports of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland did not experience the same degree of artistic growth, largely due to their Protestant beliefs in simple church decoration which did not encourage artists or sculptors. However, itinerant artists, painters who travelled to various communities to sell works, frequented the area. Dutch-born artist Gerard Edema is believed to have painted the first Newfoundland landscape in the early 1700s. [Harper, 27-28.]

English Colonial Period (1759-1867)

British Army Topographers

The battle for Quebec left numerous British soldiers garrisoned in strategic locations in the territory. While off-duty, many of these soldiers sketched and painted the Canadian land and people, which were often sold in European markets hungry for exotic, picturesque views of the colonies. Furthermore, drawing was also required by soldiers to record the land, as photography had not been invented. [Reid, 18-19.] Thomas Davies is championed as one of the most talented. Davies recorded the capture of Louisburg and Montreal among other scenes. [Reid, 19.] Scottish-born George Heriot was one of the first artist-soldiers to settle in Canada and later produced "Travels Through the Canadas" in 1807 filled with his aquatint prints. [Reid, 21.]

Lower Canada's Golden Age

In the late 1700s, art in Lower Canada began to prosper due a larger number of commissions from the public and Church construction which allowed a greater number of professional artists working and . Portrait painting in particular is recognized from this period as it allowed a higher degree of innovation and change. François Baillairgé was one of the first of this generation of artists. He returned to Montreal after in 1781 studying sculpture in London and Paris. The Rococo style influenced several Lower Canadian artists who aimed for the style's light and carefree painting. However, Baillairgé did not embrace Rococo, instead focusing on sculpture and teaching influenced from Neo-Classicism. [Harper, 56-62.]

Lower Canada's artists evolved independently from France as the connection was broken off during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. While not living in Lower Canada, William Berczy participated in the period's artistic growth. He immigrated to Canada from Saxony and completed several important portraits of leading figures. For example, he painted three portraits of Joseph Brant and his best known work is "The Woolsley Family," painted in Quebec City in 1808–09. As the title suggests the work features full-length portraits of all the members of the Woolsley family. It is celebrated in part because of its complex arrangement of figures, decorative floor panels, and the detailed view of the landscape through the open window. [Reid, 31.] Art historian J. Russell Harper believes this era of Canadian art was the first to develop a truly Canadian character. [Harper, 67.]

A second generation of artists continued this flourishment of artistic growth beginning around the 1820s. Joseph Legaré was trained as a decorative and copy painter. However, this did not inhibit his artistic creativity as he was one of the first Canadian artists to depict the local landscape. Legaré is best known for his depictions of disasters such as cholera plagues, rocks slides, and fires. [Reid, 44.] A student of Legaré, Antoine Sébastien Plamondon went on to study in France, the first French Canadian artist to do so in 48 years. Plamondon went on to become the most successful artist in this period largely through religious and portrait commissions. [Reid, 47.]

Krieghoff and Kane

The works of most early Canadian painters followed European trends. During the mid 1800s, Cornelius Krieghoff, a Dutch born artist in Quebec, painted scenes of the life of the "habitants" (French-Canadian farmers). At about the same time, the Canadian artist Paul Kane painted pictures of Indian life in western Canada.

Art under the Dominion of Canada

Early 20th Century

Nationalism and the Group of Seven

A group of landscape painters called the Group of Seven aimed to develop the first distinctly Canadian style of painting. All these artists painted large, brilliantly coloured scenes of the Canadian wilderness.

The original members of the group were Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A. Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J. E. H. MacDonald, and Frederick Varley. Tom Thomson (who died in 1917) and Emily Carr were also closely associated with the Group of Seven, though neither were ever official members.

In the 1930s, members of the Group of Seven decided to enlarge the club and formed the Canadian Group of Painters, made up of 28 artists from across the country.

Contemporaries of the Group of Seven

1930s Regionalism

Since the 1930s, Canadian painters have developed a wide range of highly individual styles. Emily Carr became famous for her paintings of totem poles, native villages, and the forests of British Columbia. Other noted painters have included the landscape artist David Milne and the prairie painter William Kurelek.

Beginning of Non-Objective Art

After World War II

Government support has played a vital role in their development, as has the establishment of numerous art schools and colleges across the country.

The abstract painters Jean-Paul Riopelle and Harold Town and multi-media artist Michael Snow. The abstract art group Painters Eleven, particularly the artists William Ronald and Jack Bush, also had an important impact on modern art in Canada.

Canadian sculpture has been enriched by the walrus ivory and soapstone carvings by the Inuit artists. These carvings show objects and activities from their daily lives, both modern and traditional, as well as scenes from their mythology.

Groups in Canadian Art

* Beaver Hall Group
* Canadian Group of Painters
* Eastern Group of Painters
* General Idea
* Group of Seven
* Indian Group of Seven
* Les Automatistes
* Painters Eleven
* Regina Five
* Woodlands School
* Vancouver School


* Walter Klinkhoff
* Max Stern, 1904-1987, art dealer



* Harper, Russell. "Painting in Canada: A History 2nd ed." Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1981. ISBN 0802063071

* Reid, Dennis "A Concise History of Canadian Painting" 2nd Edition. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1988. ISBN 019540663X.

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