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The earliest paintings by Europeans in Canada


Frère Luc
Frère Luc

The earliest paintings by Europeans in Canada were made by Roman Catholic clerics sent to administer New France (now Québec) and by British military personnel who later took over the administration of colonial territory in Canada. French explorers established a trading post at the site of Québec City in 1608, but French colonists did not begin to settle the region for another 20 years. Other French settlements were established later in Montréal and in Acadia (now Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island). French rule in Canada lasted until 1759.

The primary pictorial record of French settlement during this period comes from portraits of local officials and clergy, as well as images of nuns.

The largely self-taught artists who painted these simple works had little interest in painting the landscape. Churches requested portraits of clerics. Portraits of much-loved nuns were typically painted as memorials, after the nun’s death, for their families or their religious orders. Other religious images and ex-voto (devotional) pictures depicted saints miraculously intervening to protect the settlers from the unexpected difficulties of everyday life in their new country. One of the few professional painters to visit New France was Claude François, who became known as Frère Luc after he joined a religious order. Frère Luc created large religious images, including an Assumption (1671, Hôpital Général, Québec), during his short stay in Québec City. Sculptors in New France decorated churches and seminaries with gilded wooden altars in imitation of earlier European styles.

These early sculptors included the Baillairgé family in Québec, Louis Quévillon in Montréal, and the Levasseur brothers, who created an altar screen for the Ursuline Chapel in Québec City in the 1730s.

Early Art in the British Colonies


France and Britain were frequently at war in the 1700s, and their conflicts spread to their North American colonies. Following the British conquest of New France by 1760, British military officers stationed in Québec and in eastern Canada produced the first landscape paintings in Canada. These officers had been trained to draw maps and create precise and accurate drawings of topography (land features), and during their leisure time they produced watercolor views of nature. Thomas Davies, George Heriot, and James Pattison Cockburn, for example, documented rushing rivers and waterfalls in carefully detailed, although often-romanticized, images during the late 1700s and early 1800s. At the same time, amateur artists also painted watercolors of local life and landscape. Many of the views by the British military artists were reproduced in England as colored engravings, thus becoming the first “postcards” from Canada. "Canada" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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