Art can be categorized through different techniques in form and space, varying in subject matter, and judged upon thought, whether intuitively or technically. Different time periods and location can overall change the way one would perceive a work of art and signify the relation between the work of art and the geometric and social variants. In Europe around the turn of the century, new advancements in science, astrology, and philosophy as well as the exploration of new land made way for International art movements. North America made way for European artists to explore new land and record their travels. Up until the advancement of the photograph, artists would record what they saw though different use of materials and genres. A landscape captured the beautiful and "picturesque" surroundings; portraiture gave personal, physical, and psychological insight toward the people of the land, while genre recorded the everyday behavior and overall lifestyle of families, communities, and overall societies.
Dutch born Canadian artist Cornelius Krieghoff is "most famous for his paintings of Canadian landscapes and life outdoor." His genre paintings have "lively action and vivid characterization of the individual figures." This helps to create "an entertaining narrative" much like seventeenth century Dutch genre paintings. "Trade, science, and art were among the most acclaimed in the world" during this period and a call for depicting the everyday life was growing popular. In Holland the "middle class began to grow and thrive, in the wake of the revolution, there was a new demand for such works, which, because of their modest size, were perfectly suited to bourgeois domestic interiors." Examining the present through the use of canvas and brush created a realistic representation of day-to-day activities. After Holland, Cornelius Krieghoff moved to Montreal in eighteen forty and in eighteen forty-five he "produced genre paintings, landscapes, and portraits." Three of his paintings in particular pertain to the relation of seventeenth century Dutch genre paintings. Head of a Habitant (1847-1868), Bilking the Toll (1847-1868), and Habitants (1852) are similar to, and different from, seventeenth century Dutch genre paintings in ways I will discuss.
The First painting entitled Head of a Habitant (1847-1868) is a vivid representation of typical genre portraiture. Much like seventeenth century Dutch paintings, portraiture was to express the characterization of the person sitting for the artist. Representing an average class merchant working on the task at hand while softly gazing at the viewer recalls the presence of present everyday life. Dutch artist Jan Vermeer was famed for painting "single figures, usually women, seemingly engaged in everyday tasks. They exist in a timeless "still life" world, as if becalmed by a spell." One of Vermeer's most famous paintings entitled Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665) depicts the very essence of his work. This approach to portraiture is similar to Cornelius Krieghoff's Head of a Habitant. Using an anonymous figure to create an everyday scene forces the viewer to acknowledge traits associated with the sitter and not only the sitter itself, such as Historical Portrait paintings. Vermeer's painting Women Holding a Balance (c.1664) focuses on what the women is doing and the task in hand rather than just a portrait of a woman. By labeling the painting Head of a Habitant, Krieghoff remarks on the anonymously solidarity of a working class man. As opposed to seventeenth century Dutch genre portraiture paintings, Krieghoff uses figures to represent the new land. The word "Habitant" often referred to French-speaking people, affirms the connection between Canada and the people. In the painting, the man is facing right, gazing downward away from the viewer. This pose creates an immediate disconnection with the viewer yet adds to the curiosity of the overall painting. Literally disconnecting the sitter metaphorically connects European curiosity with unknown Canadian territory. Krieghoff also used this disconnection in translating the relationship between the French and English. Another painting by Krieghoff reflects and deflects characteristics associated with seventeenth century Dutch Genre paintings.
Much like seventeenth century Dutch genre scenes "of everyday life by portraying ordinary people engaged in common activities" Cornelius Krieghoff painted numerous outdoor scenes depicting everyday life in Canada. He "recorded on one canvas after another their high-spirited adventures as they hunted, tobogganed down the ice cone, or celebrated at the inn" One painting in particular entitled Bilking the Toll "records the mischievous custom of driving the sleigh at full speed past the gate without paying the toll collector." In the nineteenth century, tollgates were brought on to routes between Montreal and Quebec City to "fund road Maintenance." Bilking the Toll recalls a particular moment in time, a brief encounter with habitants and government workers, or to put more plainly the French and the English. By juxtaposing the relationship between two groups of people on canvas, Krieghoff creates a lively and intense "snapshot" of the present reality. Of the seventeenth century Dutch artists, Isaac van Ostade was famed for "his subjects either from village high streets or frozen canals" and "he gave fresh life to the scenes by depicting animated groups of people with a refined and searching study of picturesque contrasts." Ostade was noteworthy for his painting entitled The Winter Scene (1645) depicting an everyday scene where everyone is working together in harmony. Krieghoff's Bilking of the Toll contrasts this peaceful winter scene by exploiting the relationship between the working class and government in Canada. Political views relate more to intense genre paintings where the country itself is separated into two distinct groups, like the French and English. Although Holland was entering a revolution during the seventeenth century, political views were not as important as creating a unified and harmonized government for the working class merchants. Krieghoff's work entitled Habitants depicts another genre scene dedicated to the family theme within social circumstance.
Seventeenth century Dutch genre paintings are famed for their "snapshot" domestic scenes. They "appealed to the middle class for their contemporary and their amusing and/or sentimental anecdotal details." The Feast of St. Nicholas (1660-1665) painted by Jan Steen "tells the story with relish, embroidering it with many delightful details." In the painting "St. Nicholas has just paid his pre-Christmas visit to the household and left toys, candy, and cake for the children." Steen "was the sharpest and most good-humored observer." Giving equal attention to all characters in the frame, Steen creates an exact replica of what it would be like in Holland during the seventeenth century. Children playing, laughing, and singing, parents cautioning, and grandparents observing. Steen pays attention to "the importance of spiritual matters over worldly possessions" For the Dutch during the time of turmoil and revolution, this type of painting may be used as an uplifting reminder. Just like reminiscing about the good and happy times, the Dutch can enjoy this painting with pleasure and joy. Pertaining to this theme, Cornelius Krieghoff painted "images of rural francophones, aboriginal peoples, leisure sports, and landscapes and portraits." Krieghoff's "interpretations of life in mid nineteenth century Québec were as well-known and sought after in his own lifetime as they are today." His painting entitled Habitants creates a vivid representation of domestic life seen by a French Canadian during the nineteenth century. Like the Dutch, the French Canadian people were faced with unfair living conditions and no real prospect for the future. Unlike the great Dutch master of the seventeenth century, Krieghoff did not represent love, unity, and devotion through spiritual faith. In Habitants, Krieghoff assures that with family spirit and togetherness, the French Canadian people can unite and thrive as a whole.
In conclusion Cornelius Krieghoff is undoubtedly "the most popular Canadian painter of the nineteenth century." His genre works range from landscapes to portraiture, representing everyday life in Canada. Before the photograph became the necessity for capturing moments in time, genre paintings were acclaimed for their raw "snapshot" into the present life. Dutch genre painters and the works of Dutch born Canadian artist Cornelius Krieghoff instill a frozen moment in time. What was then a vivid present day painting is now reminisced story of the simple, hard working, and unified past.