Paul Kane1810 - 1871
Born: September 3, 1810, Mallow, County Cork, Ireland
Died: February 20, 1871, Toronto, Canada
Paul Kane is the most well known of all Canadian artist-explorers of the nineteenth century. He grew up in York (now Toronto) and started his career as a decorative furniture painter in nearby Cobourg. After working as a portraitist in Detroit and throughout the mid-west, Kane visited Europe and spent over a year traveling to art museums copying the old masters. Upon returning to Toronto, Kane set up a studio and took two trips to Western Canada; his first was a short excursion to Sault Ste. Marie in 1845 and his second a two-year expedition with the Hudson Bay Company to the Pacific in 1846 and 1847.
During his longer trip, Kane wrote in his journal, "Towards evening, as we were approaching the place where we were to cross the river, I saw some buffaloes idly grazing in a valley, and as I wished to give a general idea of the beauty of the scenery which lies all along the banks of the Saskatchawan from this point to Edmonton, I sat down to make a sketch, the rest of the party promising to wait for me at the crossing place. . . . The sleepy buffaloes grazing upon the undulating hills, here and there relieved by clumps of small tress, the unbroken stillness, and the approaching evening, rendered it altogether a scene of most enchanting repose."
Kane returned to Toronto with over 700 sketches of landscapes and Indians, including Assiniboine, Blackfoot, Cree, Clallam, Kwatiutl, and others. From those watercolor, pencil, and oil sketches, he completed over one hundred oil paintings, creating a type of Canadian Indian Gallery similar to George Catlin's of the United States. George Allan purchased the entire collection, and the Canadian Government also commissioned twelve paintings from Kane. The artist's last major project was having his travel journal published in 1859 including illustrations based on his sketches and paintings.
Although he lived and worked in Canada, Kane's work is in the style of classic nineteenth century European art, with thick glazes, muted color, smoky atmosphere, and compositions contrived in the studio. While his sketches are considered accurate and authentic renderings of native life and are useful for ethnologists, many of his paintings were created by combining images from his sketches and in some cases inventing landscapes and events.
(Quote: Kane, Paul. Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America. Reprinted in J. Russell Harper, ed. Paul Kane's Frontier. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1971, p. 80)