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Krieghoff, a fascinating artist!

For the week of Monday June 17, 2002

Born June 19, 1815, in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Cornelius Krieghoff became one of the most celebrated Canadian artists of the 19th century. Throughout his career, his canvasses were marked by humour and romanticism inspired by the rural life and landscapes of his adoptive home, Canada.

The Ice Cone at the Falls of Montmorency

The Ice Cone at the Falls of Montmorency
© LAC / 1970-188-625
W.H. Coverdale Collection of Canadiana

Krieghoff immigrated to the United States in 1837, where he enlisted in the army. After three years of military service, he married Louise Gauthier, a French-Canadian woman he met in New York. Together they travelled to Lower Canada and settled in the Longueuil area, near Montréal, where Louise's family lived. Krieghoff took the opportunity to learn more about the life of the French-Canadians, producing portraits and painting the new landscapes he discovered. He then moved to Montréal where his work was featured in a few exhibits. It was difficult however for Krieghoff to make a living. Around 1853, he left for Québec City where a group of British officers was interested in purchasing paintings depicting Canadian subjects.

Fascinated by the traditional life of the "habitants," Krieghoff depicted French-Canadian society of the mid-19th century in his work. His subjects included seasonal activities and amusements such as sleigh rides, canoe trips, children playing in the snow, festivities at the inn, as well as hunting and the sugaring-off season. Humour and cheerfulness are evident in his paintings, which are reminiscent of 17th-century Dutch paintings. The figures in his paintings usually sport toques and arrowhead sashes, two traditional accessories associated with the "habitant." Krieghoff was also interested in the Aboriginal people he met near Montréal and Québec City. He depicted their colourful costumes, their outings on snowshoes, their camps and various scenes of their daily lives.

A Game of Cards (Québec)

A Game of Cards (Québec)
© LAC / 1938-145-1

Dazzled by the beauty and the size of Canada, Krieghoff also painted forests ablaze with autumn colours, as well as the countryside, lakes, waterfalls and rivers. The cloudy skies of his landscapes are similar to those of the European Romantic artists. Always interested in discovering new vistas, he even explored areas that had recently been opened for colonization, such as the Laurentians.

Krieghoff left Québec City circa 1862, having produced close to 2,000 paintings. He spent time in several locations and died suddenly in Chicago on March 9, 1872. His lively and colourful work was as much appreciated in his own times as it is today. Cornelius Krieghoff was designated a person of national historical significance in 1972.

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