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TRENDS IN CANADIAN ART THE question of the ~ind and value of the relation of Canadian art a~d culture to the art and culture which impinge on the consciousness of Canadians from_ without the borders of Canada has been discussed intermittently and with varying bias sinc~ the speeches of Lord Lorne in 1879 and 1880 advocating and commemorating the foundation of the Royal Academy. A.n initial willing cultural tutelage gave way to a period of increasingly assertive national independence in the first decades of the present century, when the still outstanding work of Canadian art was accomplished; The issue continues in hot debate, particularly "on the air," with the assumption that, in contrast to the nature of scientific, technical, arid economic trends, which no one supposes can or should be peculiar to Canada or uniquely Canadian, art should be in some way uniquely representative or expressive of a Canadian spirit, and that what it derives from circumstances that are not peculiarly Canadian is inimical to the development of a genuinely Canadian culture. The purpose of the present review of the development of Canadian , art is not to enter this debate with argument or judgment on one side or the other, but rather to shift its grounds. Much of the following analysis, indeed, will confirm a foreign cultural derivation, now and in the past. What this argument proposes is rather to' give the relation a different significanc'e from that of mere colonialism; to suggest that the colonial issue is, in fact, as culturally as it is politically obsolete, and that the vital question is no longer (if, indeed, it ever was) between the preservation of one sort of stable, parental, but geographically foreign culture, or the development of a local, a~tonomous, and idiosyncratic Canadianism, but between relative speeds of change on ,both sides of the Atlantic, between , rates of development of, and choices in, adaptation to circumstances that are new and common to European and Canadian cultures alike. Apart from the crafts of Quebec, Canadian art, -as the product of men bred in Canada, or at least Canadianly domesticated, emerges in the second half, indeed hardly before the last quarter, of the nineteenth century. It is inevitably the art of men who, though their interest is in the quality of their own lands and lives, mould both their idea~ and their techniques on traditions and procedures assimilated from elsewhere. However they acquired their methods, their art is modelled on the romantic naturalism of early nineteenth-century Europe, a tradition shaped in its origin by a reaction from the restrictive academic and courtly rituals of the princely seventeenth and ejghteenth centuries, and subsequently from the_sordid monotony and aesthetic brutality of early industrialism. Canada In 1850 had little of either, though Berthon's portraits of W. H. Boulton, Mayor 168 TRENDS IN CANADIAN ART 169 of Toron to for several years 'in the forties, and squire of the Grange, where the painting still hangs, and of Sir John Beverley Robinson in the library of Osgoode Hall, are in the continuing tradition of van Dyck, Largilliere, and ~awrence. The courtly tradition was stronger in Catholic Quebec, where a genuine baroque style in 'ecclesiastical sculpture and decorative art survived to the end of the century. Nevertheless, this lingering survival apart, t'he romantic naturalism of England, France) and Germany, became the'romantic naturalism of Canada, because, at the moment when Canadian artists emerged as a class distinct from travelling commentators and native traditional craftsmen, romantic naturalism was the dominant imaginative mode of Western civilization, of which ,Canada is a younger son. ('Nature" in this view is a vast spirit of ideal integrity and freedom) beneficent and noble even in its apparent cruelty, and source of a spectacular dram~ which it is the artist's duty humbly to record and il1te~pret. Krieghoff (1812-72) 'and, later, Jacobi (1812-1901) bri~g the tradition from Germany; Kane (1810-71) and a dozen lesser painters import it from England. Homer Watson '(1855-1936), for all his love for, and intimacy with, rural Ontario, learns to see with the realist-romantic eyes of Constable and Theodore Rousseau. Again, in ideal contrast with both 'princes...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 168-180
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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