This Week in History
Paul Kane, Frontier Artist
For the week of Monday October 1, 2001
On October 1, 1848, at the end of a journey lasting almost three years, Paul Kane arrived in Sault Ste. Marie, carrying more than 700 sketches of high artistic and documentary value that depicted the landscape and the people of the Canadian Northwest.
By canoe, on foot, on horseback or by snowshoe, Kane crossed the Prairies and climbed the Rockies, finally reaching Fort Vancouver in December 1846. He illustrated the Western landscape, trading posts and many portages. During his journey, he met more than 80 Aboriginal groups and carefully described them in his travel diary. He painted portraits of a number of Native people, including several grand chiefs. Kane was also interested in their culture, mores, and daily and seasonal activities. A careful observer, he portrayed their traditional costumes, homes, celebrations, and hunting and fishing activities.
Upon his return, Kane became very successful. His oil paintings, inspired by the rough sketches he made on his journey, are nevertheless imaginative and reflect the style of the period. His watercolour landscapes are much more spontaneous, lively and bright. A number of his paintings are now on display at the Royal Ontario Museum and the National Gallery of Canada.
As a privileged witness to the end of an era, he painted one of the last great bison hunts. His sketches and his travel memoirs, Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America, published in 1859, help us to better understand the history of the Canadian West in the middle of the 19th century. Blind, Paul Kane died in 1871. He was designated a person of national historic significance in 1937.
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