Kristine Morris's Reviews > Painting in Canada: A History

Painting in Canada by J. Russell Harper
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's review
Mar 02, 2012

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bookshelves: canadian
Read from March 02 to April 17, 2012 — I own a copy

A bit like reading a textbook, but if you are interested in the subject it does keep you engrossed. I was familiar with many of the Canadian historical artists as individuals and could recognize some of their major works, and this book helps to put each of them into context. Harper gives background information on the main artists but he also tells their story in terms of what was happening (or in many instances what was not happening) in the Canadian art scene in Ontario and Quebec mostly, but also in the west and eastern provinces. Aside from Emily Carr and Charlotte M. Schreiber, women are grossly underrepresented (this book was written in the '60s and revised in the '70s and may have something to do with that). Harper even writes that in the '30s there were a great number of woman painters in Montreal and Toronto, but he doesn't choose to expand on that comment or even mention any names.

The book covers the earliest known paintings in Canada. It starts with the religious motivated painting and portraiture, especially those of Frère Luc, Joseph Légaré and Antoine Plamondon in Quebec before and after 1800. He talks of the short lived art societies in Toronto promoted by John Horward. Paul Kane is compared with others who were painting scenes of Indian life during the mid to late 19th century. Next is the romanticism of post-confederation painting and the influence of the Paris Salons. The paintings of F.M. Bell-Smith and other British-born artists painting in Canada and then Homer Watson and Horatio Walker are discussed after which the modernists (Impressionists) enter the picture including James Wilson Morrice and Maurice Cullen. Obviously the Group of Seven and their contemporaries are described and it was a relief that he accorded them the same amount of "space" as the others. During this time, outside of Ontario the works of Marc-Aurèle Fortin, Edwin Holgate and David Milne are discussed. Finally we get into the Abstract and "non-objective" movements of the '40s and '50s in which I recognized only a few names: a few from the Group of Seven, namely L.L. Fitzgerald (my favourite of the group), and Lawren Harris, as well as John Lyman and J.P. Riopelle. The Painters Eleven which was only intact for 6 years (1954-1960) are represented by Jack Bush and Harold Town. He discusses briefly the Regina Five (which I hadn't heard of) and then closes out the book with the realism of Alex Colville and Christopher Platt. Of course he only covers PAINTING.

Now I have to make a couple of trips to the National Art Gallery, the Hart House Gallery, the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen's in Kingston, the Robert McLaughlin gallery in Oshawa and some day the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton.

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