Artwork by Paul Kane,  Wanderings of an Artist Among the Indians of North America

Paul Kane
Wanderings of an Artist Among the Indians of North America

Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts, London, 1859
8.75 x 6 x 1.5 ins ( 22.2 x 15.2 x 3.8 cms )

Auction Estimate: $3,000.00$2,000.00 - $3,000.00

Price Realized $1,380.00
Sale date: December 6th 2017

Private Collection, Vancouver

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Paul Kane
(1810 - 1871)

Born in Cork County, Ireland, Kane was an Irish-Canadian painter, famous for his paintings of First Nations peoples in the Canadian West and other Native Americans in the Oregon Country. A largely self-educated artist, Kane grew up in Toronto (then known as York) and trained himself by copying European masters on a study trip through Europe.

After studying in Europe he returned to Canada in 1844 and by then had decided to undertake to paint the First Nations peoples, which task he described as follows, “The principal object in my undertaking was to sketch pictures of the principal chiefs, and their original costumes, to illustrate their manners and customs, and to represent the scenery of an almost unknown country.” In 1845 Kane set out for Lake Simcoe with a portfolio, a box of paints, a gun and ammunition. He travelled from Toronto to Sault Ste. Marie and back. In March of 1846 he went to Lachine to see Sir George Simpson and showed him his sketches. He explained to Sir George that he wanted to record the life of the Indian in the interior. Sir George was very interested in Kane’s paintings and commissioned him to paint twelve either for himself or the company. He also gave Kane a letter of introduction to travel by Hudson’s Bay boats and canoes and to stay at the various posts along the way. Having secured the support of the Hudson's Bay Company, he set out on a second, much longer voyage from Toronto across the Rocky Mountains to Fort Vancouver and Fort Victoria in the Columbia District, as the Canadians called the Oregon Country.

On both trips Kane sketched and painted Aboriginal peoples and documented their lives. Kane brought back more than five hundred sketches, enough to keep him supplied with material for painting for the rest of his life. He produced more than one hundred oil paintings from these sketches. His commissions included paintings for Sir George Simpson, the Library of the Legislature of Upper Canada and George William Allan (this collection was later presented to the Royal Ontario Museum).

Kenneth E. Kidd described the sketches as follows, “All… are characterized by a freshness and vitality which immediately attract one; if we can imagine the arduous circumstances under which the artist must have worked at them – in a moving canoe, in the excitement of a buffalo hunt, or in the intense cold, or again, under the suspicious eyes of hostile Indians – we must concede his ability to capture not only delightful bits of scenery but the significance of the action or the view before him as well… When he set off for the North-west coast in 1846 on his longer trip, most of his meagre equipment quickly became exhausted, for he was forced to use scraps of notepaper, some of it even lined with blue before the end of his journey. His watercolours, fortunately, did not run out, and thus the intrepid artist-explorer was able to record a truly great number of scenes along the way.”

Kane's work, particularly his field sketches, are still a valuable resource for ethnologists. The oil paintings he completed in his studio are considered a part of the Canadian heritage, although he often embellished them considerably, departing from the accuracy of his field sketches in favour of more dramatic scenes.

Source: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume II”, compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1979