Friday, August 14, 2015

Paul Kane

Flat head woman with child
circa 1848
oil on canvas
75.7 × 63.2 cm
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, Canada

Paul Kane (1810-1871) was a Canadian painter and writer. His works form a unique record of the appearance and customs of the Indians of western Canada in the middle of the 19th century.

He was born in Ireland. His father, a soldier turned wine and spirit merchant, took him to Toronto when he was 8, and it was here that he had his first introduction to art. From 1826 to 1830 he worked in a furniture factory in Ontario, and painted portraits of the local citizens in his spare time. In 1836 he set off on 9 years of wandering. His travels first took him south through the United States to New Orleans; from there he sailed for Marseilles in 1841 and after that across Europe and briefly to the eastern Mediterranean and North Africa. By the time he returned to Toronto in 1845, he had decided on his life's work and had acquired the necessary skill to carry it out. He prepared himself for his task by copying Old Masters in the museums.

His first expedition among the Indians started in 1845. In the course of the next 2 years he traveled from one trading post to another by canoe, on horseback, and by sleigh and dog team as far as Vancouver Island, sketching the Indians in oils and watercolors and collecting artifacts as he went. Returning to Toronto in 1848, he began the series of 100 canvases, now in the Royal Ontario Museum. He also painted a dozen pictures for Sir George Simpson and another 12 for the Canadian legislature, 11 of which are now in the National Gallery of Canada.

In 1858 Kane revisited London to arrange for the publication of his journal, Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America. In 1866 blindness forced him to abandon his plans for further painting and publication.