Painting Canada’s Winter
Cornelius Krieghoff (19 June 1815 – 8 April 1872), was born in Amsterdam, but is usually described as a “Canadian painter.”
For instance, on 29 November 1972, when a Canadian post stamp was issued to commemorate artist Cornelius Krieghoff, Charles C. Hill, the then Curator of Canadian Art at the Canadian National Gallery (Ottawa), stated that:
Krieghoff was the first Canadian artist to interpret in oils… the splendour of our waterfalls, and the hardships and daily life of people living on the edge of new frontiers. (See Cornelius Krieghoff, Wikipedia.)
Although born in the Netherlands, Krieghoff, married Louise Gauthier a French-Canadian woman who worked in New York. He spent several years in the province of Quebec, Canada, and his subject-matter is largely Canadian, which may explain his being considered a Canadian painter.
He painted landscapes, “habitants,” portraits, animals and Amerindians (Native Americans) living in Quebec. Some of his paintings of habitants are genre paintings. Krieghoff was mostly a genre artist. In the mid 1840, he befriended Mohawks, (living in the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, near Montreal). In this respect, i.e. subject-matter and venue, Krieghoff is a ‘Canadian painter,’ best known for his winter landscapes.
The Blizzard, by Cornelius Krieghoff, 1857 (National Gallery of Canada)
The Toll Gate, by Cornelius Krieghoff, 1859
(Photo credit: Wikimedia)
However, Krieghoff was trained in Europe. He was introduced to painting by his father, but as of c. 1830, he studied art the Academy of Fine Arts in Germany. Krieghoff returned to Europe on three occasions. Between 1844 and 1846, he copied masterpieces of the Louvre as a student of Michel Martin Drolling (7 March 1789 – 9 January 1851). Drolling was a neoclassic French portraitist and painter of history. Consequently he was an academicist, one of the painters whose artworks could be exhibited at the biannual Paris Salon, then the most important exhibition in the world. Krieghoff also travelled to Europe in 1854, “visiting Germany and Italy,” and lived in Europe from 1863 to 1868. (See Cornelius Krieghoff, Wikipedia.)
Cornelius Krieghoof in North America
In 1836, aged 22, Krieghoff moved to New York and joined the US armed forces. He made sketches of the second Seminole War, which he later transformed into oil paintings. The Seminole Wars (1816 – 1858) will not be discussed in this post.
Until the abolition of the Seigneurial System, in 1854, which occurred eleven years before the abolition of slavery in the United States, an “habitant” was a French Canadian living on the thirty acres of land allotted him by his Seigneur. Nouvelle-France had been divided into Seigneuries.[i] The “habitant” was not a slave, but his duties included the corvée, “a day’s unpaid labor owed by a vassal to his feudal lord.” The corvée seigneuriale is sometimes considered a form of taxation. The meaning of the word corvée is “chore.” As for the word “habitant” (inhabitants), it has acquired a pejorative connotation, that of “uncouth.” Be that as it may, Krieghoff revelled in painting habitants (literally, “inhabitants”). (See Corvée seigneuriale (FR), Wikipedia.)[ii]
- French Canadian Habitants Playing at Cards, by Cornelius Krieghoff, 1858 (National Gallery of Canada)
Habitants, by Cornelius Krieghoff, 1852 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Cornelius Krieghoff’s depiction of Amerindians, or Native Americans, is a precious legacy. These images linger in the memory of those who have had the privilege of seeing them. As you may know, the first French settlers often married Amerindian women. There were very few women in New France in the first half of the 17th century. The Filles du Roi (FR), or King’s Daughters, did not start arriving in New France until 1663. During the Seminole Wars, the 2nd, Krieghoff had also met Amerindians, but not those he painted.
The French-Canadian voyageurs also created a Métis population. Those who wintered at fur-trading posts signed a three-year contract. Many married Amerindian women and it could well be that some had two wives. The most famous among these Métis is Louis Riel (22 October 1844 – 16 November 1885), a Canadian politician, the Father of Manitoba and one of the Fathers of Confederation.
However, Krieghoff’s Amerindians inhabited Quebec. I have chosen a video that shows depictions of Amerindians by Cornelius Krieghoff. We therefore have pictures.
Cornelius Krieghoff died in Chicago, where he had retired, on March 8, 1872, at the age of 56. He was buried in Chicago’s Graceland cemetary. Krieghoff had been exceptionally prolific. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, he made “1500 to 1800 paintings and prints.” The Great Quebec Fire of 8 June1881 destroyed many of his sketches, then owned by John S. Budden. (See Cornelius Krieghoff, Wikipedia.)
Sources other than Wikipedia:
[i] Benoît Grenier, Brève histoire du régime seigneurial (Montréal: Boréal, 2012). (ISBN 9782764621646)
[ii] When the Seigneurial system was abolished (1854), habitants did not lose their thirty acres.
Philippe Gélinas, Lise Roy et compagnie – Turlute à Antonio Bazinet
© Micheline Walker
29 December 2013
The Artist at Niagara, 1858
post stamp issued on 7 July 2000
Canadian Postal Archives