Special Authors' Notes

Images of Canada

On this plate we trace the movements of some representative 19th-century landscape painters and photographers, using as our points of reference published evidence of their work. The topographical artists who preceded the railway and the photograph were primarily watercolourists with military training. The easy portability of their medium reflected their role and the often harsh conditions they endured. Their job was to document the terrain over which they travelled, to give it definition comprehensible to analytical viewers at home. The engineers, surveyors, generals, politicians, and settlement agents depending upon such pictorial data would interpret it for their own practical purposes - but so would many others, since images made by such artists were published and in print well before mid-century.

Later survey and expeditionary artists like W.G.R. Hind reached artistic maturity simultaneously with the birth of commercial photography and the railway. Hind had studied art in England and Europe before coming to Canada and he brought to the oils and watercolours which chronicle his extensive travels across Canada an eye for microscopic detail. He shared Paul Kane's fascination for indigenous peoples, whom both men clearly regarded as integral parts of the wilderness landscapes they most loved, but Hind was equally at ease painting the pastoral and maritime scenes pictured on this plate. Chromolithographs by Hind were published as early as 1863, to illustrate his brother's book of their joint Explorations in the Interior of the Labrador Peninsula.

Professional artists - those who made a living by painting - often required institutional patronage. Both Peter Rindisbacher and Paul Kane were sustained at intervals by the HBC and its officials. Lucius R. O'Brien and J.A. Fraser were commissioned by William Van Horne to make views for the CPR.

Like the topographic artists, Paul Kane made sketches, often in watercolour, in the field. These he brought back to his studio as the raw material for larger oil paintings. As these paintings were often revised to accommodate the aesthetic tastes of their buyers, it is the sketches which we often turn to for more dependable representations of the land and the native people.

After the arrival of the collodion wet-plate the portrait photograph became a commonplace, ensuring the success of commercial houses like William Notman's studio in Montreal. Notman hired aspiring young painters like Fraser to colour his photographs - indeed, the Notman Studio was to late 19th-century landscape artists what Grip would become for the Group of Seven. Fraser organized sketching expeditions for the other Notman artists during the 1860s and in 1867 he was involved in founding the Society of Canadian Artists. After moving to Toronto in 1868 to establish the Notman and Fraser Studio, he joined with O'Brien, T. Mower Martin and others to form the Ontario Society of Artists in 1872. Many of these 'railway artists,' as they later became known, were charter members of the Royal Canadian Academy at its founding in 1880. The first president of the Academy was O'Brien, an Ontario-born civil engineer who did not take up painting seriously until he was 40. He traveled from one end of Canada to the other, by train, by wagon, by canoe, and on foot, frequently camping under the night sky, usually sketching from nature.

Nevertheless he included in Picturesque Canada (1882), of which he was art editor, some images that he himself had made by copying photographs originally taken many years earlier by Benjamin Baltzly, Frederick Dally, Charles Horetzky, and others. Fraser occasionally did the same thing, duplicating and embellishing photographs for publicity pictures commissioned by the CPR. Thus images have turned up in publications or on posters as 'true' representations of places an artist may never have been. By the end of his career O'Brien was taking his own photographs in the field during the summer and working up oil paintings based upon them in the warmth of his studio during the winter.

On this plate we have identified places painted by O'Brien and later reproduced and published, in order not only to document O'Brien's attempts to grasp the whole of Canada and give it definition, but also to demonstrate the growing capacity of the printing press to bring individual landscape works by this extraordinary painter to a wider public. Martin attempted several years later to duplicate the success of Picturesque Canada, preparing 77 landscapes which were printed in colour in Wilfred Campbell's book Canada (1907). However, they never captured the imagination of the public, whose tastes, by the turn of the century, were being revolutionized by the very advances in photography which had made reproduction of the paintings possible. By then a new generation of artists, particularly painters like Homer Watson who were touched by the Barbizon school and Impressionism, felt compelled to leave the realistic depiction of the land to the photographers.

Developments in photography have proved extremely difficult to map. The route of the contingent of Royal Engineers responsible for photography for the North American Boundary Commission demonstrates that one can find documentary images which, in sequence, hold large expanses of Canada fixed in time and in the eye of the cameraman. Humphrey Lloyd Hime, who travelled with Henry Youle Hind on the Assiniboine and Saskatchewan expedition of 1858, and Alexander Hen rain were foreign born and frequently foreign trained in formal conventions like the sublime and the picturesque, in going into the new land they attempted not only to absorb the wilderness of which they had had no previous experience, but to reshape their perceptions, to begin the arduous process of finding a new visual language truly capable of expressing this place they would call home.

Victorian class distinctions were attached to paintings and photographs. Original paintings appealed to the wealthy because they were unique: no print could be made that would reproduce the touch, the manual application of colour by the artist. The aesthetic sensibility of potential purchasers remained a major obstacle to innovation by artists throughout this period. The original photograph, however, was valuable to the photographer only if the prints made from it were sold over and over again. Photography was distinguished by its novelty, by its speed, and by its realism. It fostered the advertising industry and promoted tourism. It brought immortality through the family album. By way of the stereograph it lured unsolicited geography lessons about Africa and Asia into the front parlour on Saturday nights. Shortly after Confederation the half-tone plate could reproduce paintings, political events, and landscape views in books, magazines, and newspapers. These in turn could be shipped by rail to progressively more remote destinations, revolutionizing the visual understanding of Canada by a people whose huge country had largely been imagined from words and engravings.

The following table briefly chronicles the development of new technologies in the 19th century. Readers are encouraged to juxtapose this information with that on the plate, to establish relationships between painting and photography, on the one hand, and, on the other, the revolution in the visual perception of landscape which new printing technologies brought to the reading public of 19th-century Canada.

 A checklist of developments in the visual arts and in photographic, printing, and transportation technologies

  Steel, copper, and wood engravings were printed in Canada throughout the 19th century, but photomechanical processes gradually displaced them. Photography, printing, and railway travel combined to explode the conventions of visualization.
1826 First evidence of commercial lithography in Canada
1839 Invention of the daguerreotype and calotype
1851 Invention of the collodion wet-plate photographic process (used by Frederick Dally, Alexander Henderson, and the Royal Engineers on the North American Boundary Commission)
1853 Completion of the St Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad
1856 The first commercial coloured lithograph printed in Canada by Fuller and Benecke of Toronto (a reproduction of Paul Kane's The Death of Big Snake)
1860 Completion of the Grand Trunk Railway, Sarnia -Rivière -du-Loup Founding of the Art Association of Montreal
1865 Canada Classified Directory (Toronto: Mitchell and Co, 1865-6) lists more than 360 photographers
1867 First appearance of the collodion dry-plate photographic process in Canada (used by Charles Horetzky) Founding of the Society of Canadian Artists in Montreal
1869 First commercial appearance of half-tone screen photo engravings. Processes patented in Canada by William Augustus Leggo included granulated photog­raphy, leggotyping, and photolithography, examples of which appeared in The Canadian Illustrated News (1869-83), Sandford Fleming's The Intercolonial (1876), and George Monro Grant's Ocean to Ocean (1872)
1870 First issue of Opinion publique
1871 Establishment of the Dominion Lands Survey
1872 Founding of the Ontario Society of Artists
1873 Completion of the Toronto, Grey and Bruce Railway, Toronto-Owen Sound
1876 Completion of the Intercolonial Railway, Riviere-du-Loup-Halifax
1878 Development of the gelatino -bromide dry-plate photographic process
1880 Founding of the Royal Canadian Academy, Lucius R. O'Brien, president
1882 Publication of Picturesque Canada with 500 wood engravings, Lucius R. O'Brien, art editor
1886 Beginning of CPR transcontinental passenger service
1887 First photogrammetric surveys in Canada conducted by W.S. Drewry and J.J. McArthur using techniques pioneered in Canada by Édouard Deville

George Eastman introduces the Kodak No. 1 camera incorporating roll film. This was followed in 1889 by the Kodak No. 2 camera incorporating celluloid roll film. Both used a dry gelatin emulsion. This camera was used by Joseph Burr Tyrrell in his work on the Geological Survey. It was also available to tour­ists who now had a simple method of recording their personal travels.

First issue of The Dominion Illustrated (1888-93)

1891 Photogravure illustrations appear for the first time in a Canadian daily news­paper (The Globe)

Printed Historical Atlas of Canada sources:

19th Century Images of Canada (Volume II, Plate 1, Concise Plate 29)
The Look of Domestic Building, 1891 (Volume II, Plate 6; Concise Plate 30)