Geography as much as tradition has influenced Canadian art. This can be seen from the reproductions is this book, which cover the period from the nineteenth century to about 1930. Best remembered from pioneering days is CORNELIUS KRIEGHOFF (1815-1872). Endowed with a talent for anecdote and illustration, this wanderer from Europe depicted winter scenes in Quebec with a facility that was much admired. The artists who followed him in the next few decades tended on the other hand to be mainly men who had come from the United Kingdom or, if native born, were firmly tutored in either the English academic or Barbizon traditions. By the end of the nineteenth century the more experimental developments in French art had, however, begun to influence a few of the younger painters who had gone to Paris to study, such as JAMES WILSON MORRICE (1865-1924).
The nationalist awakening, when it finally came, proved to be a mingling of both native stimulus and new techniques. Beginning before 1914, it reached its culmination in the formation of THE GROUP OF SEVEN in 1920. The emphasis of these painters was on the decorative treatment of landscape. They found in those ragged areas of woodland, rock, and hidden lakes, which cover much of central and northern Canada, the inspiration for many of their most distinctive canvases. As their principal spokesman, A. Y. JACKSON, has explained, it was this choice of subject which helped to create their style.
The reproductions have been selected from each period, but the largest number have been chosen from the opening quarter of the twentieth century. Since 1930 various other tendencies have come equally to the fore in Canadian painting, and these will be dealt with in a second volume.
The adornment of the parish churches with gilded and coloured carvings in wood, the cultivation of a simple but adequate colonial architecture and the growth, in a community isolated from metropolitan life, of rural handicrafts made up the artistic heritage of the French regime in Canada. Painting was a more sophisticated art, less prone to flourish in a frontier colony. The ecclesiastical examples which are still preserved from the eighteenth century are not notable. Shortly after 1760, a certain François Malepart de Beaucourt, the son of a military engineer, was, however, doing some creditable portraits and figure studies in Quebec.
After his death early in the nineteenth century, no other painter of interest turned up along the St. Lawrence until the German adventurer, Cornelius Krieghoff, arrived in Montreal in the early forties. Krieghoff, whose birthplace is variously given as Düsseldorf, and Amsterdam, the son of a wall-paper manufacturer, had been given a good education, for he seems to have studied art both in German schools and in Rotterdam.