It's Not the Destination, It's the Journey: Art and the Expedition in Nineteenth Century Canada II

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Introduction

Spontaneity and immediacy of application are characteristics that make field studies particularly valuable to historians - whether it makes them good art is debateable. In many ways these field studies suit contemporary taste, with their authentic, un-deliberated composition, but we must be leery of tendencies towards presentism in our analysis. It is specifically because of the concept of "taste" that these images were often processed into glossy romantic studio paintings in the first place. Victorian ideals such as Rousseau's notion of the "noble savage" co-existed in the minds of artists alongside such contrary concepts as Ruskin's philosophy of true art (being wholly dictated by nature, apart from ambitious human posturing.) Pre-Raphaelite influences informed the style adopted by Hopkins and Hind, who translated the landscape with a compositional and colouristic bent for the actual. Paul Kane, on the other hand, assumed a process of "selection and stylization" in his work (McLaren in Eaton and Urbanek vii.) Kane's art was the product of a much more defined agenda, motivated by the artist's belief that his work served to immortalize a disappearing wildness -in landscape and culture. The artist did not fully "give himself to nature" (as per Ruskin) but instead composed images following classical European conventions of painting to ennoble the nation. Kane was a more commercial artist then Hind or Hopkins, retaining a sensibility in his art that was less personal and more broadly appealing to the European market. Kane was not averse to composite modes of design, selecting details from several studies to create an overall effect that he deemed more ideal and aesthetically satisfying then the raw material sketched in the field.