By the early 19th century, Canadian-born painters rivaled their British-born and French-born colleagues in Canada in number and in the production of artworks. Some Canadian artists traveled abroad to study, because apprenticeships and private instruction were the only forms of art training available in Canada. With only a few museums and art associations in existence in Canada, Canadian artists also had little opportunity to exhibit their work. Despite these obstacles, a Canadian art community started to develop.
The portrait became an item of prestige and social identity as society took shape and Canadians assumed their places in this new society.
Québec painters of the late 1700s and early 1800s were intent on conveying an accurate likeness of the sitter in early and rather severe portraits of clerics, merchants, and politicians. These painters included William Berczy, François Baillairgé, Louis Dulongpré, and Jean-Baptiste Roy-Audy. In Nova Scotia, English painter Robert Field created portraits of merchants and government officials, as well as their wives, introducing the elegant poses and costumes and the cloud-filled atmospheric backgrounds favored by British painters of the late 1700s. George Berthon continued this tradition of fashionable portraiture in Toronto in the 1800s.
By the mid-1800s portrait painters in Québec City paid more attention to the sitter’s character and personality. In addition, they used specific domestic or outdoors settings to give a sense of greater realism to their subjects. Among these painters were Antoine Plamondon, his student Théophile Hamel, and First Nations (indigenous) artist Zacharie Vincent. These artists also painted some of the first self-portraits in Canada. The first examples of Canadian portrait sculpture were created in the mid-1800s, but such sculpture remained rare.
Another group of Canadian painters created landscapes and city views during the 1800s. Québec artist Joseph Légaré documented the harsh realities of life in dramatic paintings of fires, plagues, and other natural disasters in Québec. These works contrast with the placid city views painted by James Duncan in Montréal, Robert Whale in Hamilton, Ontario, and John Poad Drake and John O’Brien in Halifax. William Raphael was one of a few artists to portray scenes of everyday life in the growing port city of Montréal on the St. Lawrence River. Dutch-born painter Cornelius Krieghoff integrated images of the Québec countryside with scenes of rural people at work and play. He rarely suggested the hardship of their life, however.
In western Canada, Paul Kane documented the world of First Nations peoples through portraits and through sketches and paintings of their activities and ceremonies and their prairie landscapes. Like Krieghoff, Kane tended to romanticize the life and scenes he portrayed. "Canada" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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