Simmins--BNA painters

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Introduction M19958 M919 M371 M20044 M20049 M358 M370 M16482


Painting in British North America, 1760-1867

Overview: Immense developments during period: from Military colonies to Victorian cities...

Cultural and Historical Factors:

urban character very different from Québec: compare, for instance, plan of Halifax (regular, geometric) with plan of Quebec City

review political developments briefly: Quebec Act, 1774; (permits retention of religious practices); Constitutional Act of 1791 (divides Canada into Upper and Lower Canada; recognizes presence of Loyalists); Family Compact, Rebellion of 1837; striving for Responsible Government; 1840: Report on the Affairs of BNA, or Durham Report ("I found two nations warring in the bosom of a single state: I found a struggle, not of principles, but of races"); recommends responsible Government?Act of Union, 1841; eventually leads to Confederation in 1867

American War of Independence had significant impact on Canada. After 1784 Loyalists move into what would become Ontario, and also into Maritimes

in European context, covering period of Georgian rule, up to early Victorian (1837+)

development of a British face for the colony intensified n the middle of the 18th c. As Reid notes, Halifax was established as a British military colony in 1749, Quebec was taken in 1759, and Montreal surrendered to British troops in 1760. English-speaking civilians soon began to settle adjacent to the garrisons, working in the civil service, as merchants or in the lucrative fur trade, and their numbers swelled greatly in the early 1780s with the influx of Empire

Loyalists from the US (Note particular influence on Maritimes.) NB that these refugees were instrumental in establishing new towns independent of military rule?e.g., Toronto, established as a military outpost in 1793, but which grew to be incorporated as a city in 1834

Artistic Developments

We have been looking at art traditions largely dominated by religious sentiment?not the case in English Canada

instead, see very different traditions, all secular: history painting; topographical landscape tradition, largely initiated by military officers; and, as communities become more stable, separate development of portraiture

of the three, the second is the most significant?both in terms of number of works produced, and in terms of the complexity of ideas that are associated with examining it

in particular, theory of Picturesque landscape was to be of significance to all of Canadian art

history painting was rare, but portraiture became more common as the period progresses for similar reasons to those cited in connection with the earlier development of portraiture in New France, namely the development of a stable middle class that could commission portraiture


Benjamin West, Death Of Wolfe, compared with Trumbull, e.g., Sortie Made by the Garrison of Gibralter

for example, history painting showing contemporary events were produced about members of the colony, but not by them. Particularly promoted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, a noted British painter and first president of Britain's Royal Academy.

this one by West: 1738-1820. American-born, left colonies in 1759 to study in Italy; settled in London in 1763, where he prospered as a painter of portraits and historical and religious scenes

one of six monumental paintings of this death scene

Part of trend to use contemporary events as lessons with moral purpose. US and Canada not substantially different. Therefore could say that it is stretching a point to include an American in course on Canadian painting. But this is the point: Contemporary events were used as moral exemplars, regardless of the actual location.

NB degree of idealization?of forms and content

e.g., figure of Noble Savage...depicted using figure types that were taken from antique statuary

so even though these paintings are not really specific to Canada (except for the subject), they continue to present an idealized European image of it

such history paintings were not produced by painters living in the colony until well in to the 19th century, but are important because they remind us that most of the paintings were produced for an audience in tune with European conventions and sensibility

will see again and again in terms of the other more common forms of art produced in the colony, e.g., watercolors, which are perhaps the single most predominant genre of painting in all of Canadian art

he kept painting similar views, as in the much later (1896) Death of Nelson.


Why is this of interest? Are not landscapes purely factual? Actually not. As we will see, landscape paintings subject to high degree of conventionalization that is extremely revealing of attitudes of the artists themselves, and beyond them, the audience that saw these works, in order to understand landscape in Canada, have to consider it as a genre in England, where it was highly favored.

Arose as independent genre in mid 18th century, having first been used to prepare black and white studies for later use as engravings. However, color washes were gradually added and then brushes were used, and watercolors became valued in and of themselves

shift in taste paralleled by important developments in English art theory, namely, theory of Picturesque; factual representation by Paul Sandby and John Sell Cotman gradually supplanted by artists who favored "rocks and precipices and castellated mountains," as Horace Walpole remarked in 1761 (cited in Davies cat., p. 16)

leads to poetic mood in landscape, where associational value, sensitivity, spontaneity become favored; watercolor medium prized now not only because of practicality in the field but because of its directness and immediacy

Examples: Topographical British drawings, e.g., Norwich School, including John Sell Cotman (search under Cotman); also see British Watercolours.

other sources from period emphasized the evocative power of landscape representation, e.g.,William Gilpin, Three Essays: on Picturesque Beauty: on Picturesque Travel; and on Sketching Landscape, to which is added a Poem on Landscape Painting. 1792; he favored variety and incidence

these were the underlying theories that were attached to landscape: note particularly the associations of mood and sensibility that are in keeping with developing Romantic movement

if these were the theories attached to landscape painting in England, in Canada, there was also a more practical application, namely the military tradition of landscape representation. Artists sometimes accompanied exploration voyages to record events, e.g., John White, who accompanied Raleigh for Virginia Expeditions in 1584 90. In Canada, two amateur artists accompanied Wolfe's expedition in 1759. Same would be true of expeditions out west and on Coast.

art of this type was produced by English-speaking military officers, many of whom were trained at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich. They were trained for the purposes of military recognizance to take topographical views. These would be precise, objective depictions of landscape (in stylistic analysis note lack of aerial perspective)

in this context, watercolor favored not so much for aesthetic reasons but because portable and quick

cite from John Hassell, [Drawing Instruction], re Woolwich Academy: "Painting is the art of imitating nature by combining proportional lines with correspondent colours, so as to represent the life, objects of every description and under every variety of form."

? Proportion = basis = accurate art; but combine best elements of art to attain simplicity

emulation, not imitation emulation aided by simplicity and taste, will produce works worthy of praise

Most early British artists working in Canada were trained in this manner, although they were certainly influenced also by the theories of Picturesque. Had to be: drawing instructor at Woolwich no less an artist than Paul Sandby, sometimes called "the father of the English school of
watercolor" (Thomas Davies catalogue, p. 12)

interesting result: Canadian landscape represented in apparently factual manner but on closer examination nonetheless affected by sensibility trained by Picturesque theories

can see in tendency to look for picturesque subjects; compositions devised in terms of these theories (e.g., staffage, flanking trees, etc.)

this tendency emphasized even more by quite common pattern of artists publishing their sketches later

after all, remember who many of these paintings were executed for: either garrison audience or audiences far away in England. The concept of "factual" landscape therefore has to be carefully applied when speaking of early Canadian painting of this period

should also note that while today speaking mainly of artists with English military training in central Canada, as a general rule this emphasis on watercolor views with picturesque prospects were later seen in other parts of the country as they developed, e.g., the west and the Arctic

moreover: although the military artists actually received this training at academies, it was considered part of an educated person's capabilities to produce a decent watercolor. That is why we have many women artists working in this tradition. Wives of military officers and politicians often produced a large body of high quality watercolors.

examples: Lady Dufferin; Lady Simcoe, wife of first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada; Frances Ann Hopkins wife of Secretary to Sir George Simpson, Governor General of Hudson's Bay Company; lived in Canada 1858 70, sketched fur trade scenes and Indian life; with Wolsey during Red River expedition of 1870 (Canoes in the Fog).


in 1831 Quebec larger than Montreal: had 27,741 inhabitants and was the capital of British military forces for Canada: force of 2 regiments, representing 2,000 men and three hundred canons

Thomas Davies (c. 1737-1812)

good example of artist who had a picturesque sensibility influenced by literary theory

important to note: professional soldier first; artist second (received only casual training as part of his preparation to be an officer)

officer in Royal Regiment of Artillery though ultimately rose to rank of Lieutenant General

only visited Canada four times, briefly. Three periods in 1750s and '60s, and a fourth in the 1780s. He was extremely interested in Canada, however

botanical exactitude of a naturalist's observations ? he would also execute a number of detailed watercolors of birds contributes to an almost hypnotic realism of style

also interested in local activities, such as fisheries e.g., Falls on the St. Anne River. Interest in such scenes paralleled with contemporary writers, e.g, author of The History of Emily Montague, who described the falls in these terms:

[They are] one of the noblest works of nature: the beauty, the proportion, the solemnity, the wild magnificence of which, surpassing every possible effect of art, impress one strongly with the ideas of its Divine Almighty Architect. (Cited in Ibid., pp. 36-38)

? staffage, appreciation of nature (read from Montmorenci section of Heriot)

his works went back to England and were only rediscovered in early 1950s. At that time a collection of more than fifty of his views were auctioned; twenty of the views were bought by the National Gallery of Canada in 1954

later assessments somewhat exaggerated: one figure states that his art had a "brilliance, breadth, and clarity not to be associated again with the Canadian landscape until more than a century and a half later with the advent of the Group of Seven." (Cited in Thomas Davies, NGC, p. 20)

use to ask question: relationship of viewer to landscape?

GEORGE HERIOT (1766 1844)

long residence in the garrison community of Quebec; so long that he might be considered Canada's first resident English speaking artist

among those who studied at Royal Military Academy in Woolwich; there between 1785 91; possibly studied with Sandby

in 1791 transferred to Quebec as a civil servant; nine years later appointed deputy postmaster general for BNA (retained this post till 1816)

his job required him to inspect the various post offices, and he carried a sketchbook with him

acquatints included views from Travels in the Canadas, 1804 (Vol. 1) and 1807 (Vol. 2). Minuets of the Canadians and La Danse Ronde appeared in the second volume. Read from passages on Montmorency Falls. Notable for comments in connection with Sublimity; hunts for advantageous views the way later people would hunt for wildlife.

staged quality, English trees

demonstrates interest in native customs ? but his feelings of inherent superiority (read from Travels in the Canadas)

JAMES COCKBURN (1788 1847), And Additional Information On James Cockburn

if Davies represented landscape through European sensibility, and Heriot the manners and foibles of the people of the country, Cockburn is known for his urban views, his townscapes of Montreal and Quebec

he is single best known garrison artist of the day

like Heriot, trained by Sandby; like Davies, 2 sided career: rose in military to rank of major general, and also enjoyed considerable reputation as an illustrator and author of picturesque travel books

before Quebec posting he had published at least six books of European tours; and after his arrival, he published Quebec and its Environs, 1831

? recapitulate literary connections

James Pattison Cockburn
Le Cap Diamant vu de Spencer
Wood, 1830
Ink and wash on paper, 15.4 x 22.6 cm


some artists known pretty well exclusively for their engravings, which emphasizes the point that these artists were working for audiences who themselves were brought up on the theories of the Picturesque, and expected to see exotic realms depicted in a pleasing way


known for six views of Quebec at time of Conquest; was present at siege of Quebec. Prints published by John Boydell in London in 1761


better known is Bartlett, who more than any other single figure is responsible for having introduced image of Canadian landscape to Europeans

produces Canadian Scenery Illustrated, London, 1842

if landscapes are idealized and "untrue," this is as much due to audiences' expectations of them as to his own failings



should not leave this section before putting forward some ideas concerning connections with literature of period, and thence to possible symbolic interpretations of Canadian
landscape tradition

one study in particular has attempted ambitious synthesis of literature and painting: Gaile McGregor's Wacousta Syndrome (title from Major John Richardson's book Wacousta, which she compares to James Fenimore Cooper' Longstocking novels)

? she points out (p. 10) that "The art of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is, to be sure, representational; that is, formally object-oriented. The apparent concern with mimesis should not, however, mislead us about the extent to which the artists' predispositions determine not only what but how we see."

cites writer Ronald Rees (Ibid): "'landscape paintings reveal more about the artist's attitudes toward the landscape than they do about the landscape itself. Subjectivity of vision, the dictates of artistic convention, and concern for the imaginative rather than a literal truth preclude paintings which are mirror images of the environment.'"

? having established this basic point, she argues that Canadian landscape should first be seen as a distinct contrast to the European symbolism attached to landscape i.e., that of Paradise or pastoral peace. Remember Voltaire? Compare with Captain Vancouver: He "found no pleasure...Anchored along the coast in June, 1792, he despaired of the scene about him. 'Our residence here,' he wrote, 'was truly forlorn.'" (Ibid., p. 26)

by contrast, McGregor argues, Americans tend to represent landscape in terms of great challenge, which will eventually be subdued and yet still learned from; she provocatively argues that Canadian artists and writers tend to regard as a threat all viewing landscape from the safety of the fort what lay out there was threatening and potentially lethal

gives example of a British ship on the west coast, and quoting a writer on west coast art, "Terrifying and desolate in its overwhelming presence, the terrain is an inhospitable barrier to man. The ships and sailors, even the natives, are active only on the coastal fringe. The rocks and the forest rear up as walls, overwhelming the fragile human endeavor." (Wacousta Syndrome, p. 13)

similar attitudes tend to be seen in literature of the period, e.g., Emily Montague, Susanna Moodie, Roughing it in the Bush, Catharine Parr Trail, Susanna Moodie's sister, in her The Backwoods of Canada and The Canadian Settler's Guide

for example, the Moodies, "like the United Empire Loyalists before them and like great numbers of people since, came to Canada not with a dream of carving individual empires, but with the modest hope of salvaging a way of live threatened at home...Like so many of the genteel poor from England and Scotland the Moodies sought in Canada refuge, a way of saving pride in the face of ever dwindling economic and social circumstances. The contrast to the creative and forward-looking American experience in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is absolutely crucial to understanding a distinctively Canadian imaginative tradition. Seeking a haven in which to preserve customs threatened at home is imaginatively at the opposite pole from rejecting the old order and emigrating in order to begin life anew. (p. 28 not her: David Stouck on the Moodies)

? aesthetic attitudes ranged from avoidance to conventionalization to domestication

? As Margaret Atwood points out in Survival, her thematic study of Canadian literature, in connection with Moodie's writing (cited in McGregor, pp. 37-38), "Again and again we find her gazing at the sublime natural goings-on in the misty distance ? sunsets, mountains, spectacular views ? only to be brought up short by disagreeable things in her immediate foreground, such as bugs, swamps, tree roots and other immigrants. Nature the Sublime can be approached but never reached, and Nature the Divine Mother hardly functions at all."

? Wordsworthian diction, with its implications of a beautiful, benevolent nature, contrasts violently with harsh and threatening aspects of Canada

Catharine Parr Trail, Susanna Moodie's sister, in her The Backwoods of Canada and The Canadian Settler's Guide attempts another strategy: to cut nature down to size, to domesticate it: emphasizes aspects of nature that are not only small and safe, but which can be used

trick is to determine whether Canadian landscapes are always "threatening," and, if not, whether there are differences as to period and region.