The geographical and historical differences between the three countries of the North-American continent have found expression in the diversity of spatial representations of their landscape artists, through the use of varying visual idioms. While geography is diverse, the artists’ intentions show similarities: in Canada, as in the United States and Mexico, we will find the same spirit driving humankind at each different moment to become acquainted with, to observe and to make use of nature. Works of art bear witness to the problems of conquering untamed nature and establishing borders, as well as showing the riches of nature and their exploitation throughout the passage of time.

The geographical and historical differences between the three countries of the North-American continent have found expression in the diversity of spatial representations of their landscape artists, through the use of varying visual idioms. While geography is diverse, the artists’ intentions show similarities: in Canada, as in the United States and Mexico, we will find the same spirit driving humankind at each different moment to become acquainted with, to observe and to make use of nature. Works of art bear witness to the problems of conquering untamed nature and establishing borders, as well as showing the riches of nature and their exploitation throughout the passage of time.


©CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Sopwith Camel Looping

Sopwith Camel Looping

Francis (Frank) H. Johnston (1888 - 1949)
Canadian War Museum
1918
CANADA
watercolour, gouache, graphite on paper board
72.30 X 57.20 cm
© Canadian War Museum


It is said that Canada’s participation in the First World War gave the country its first sense of nationhood. This new consciousness may have been influenced by the wide publication of art works specially commissioned as a visual record of the Canadian forces’ activities. Frank Johnston flew with and painted pilots training at Camp Borden, Ontario. In doing so, he became the first Canadian artist to depict the experience of flight—and to paint the Canadian landscape as seen from the air. He wrote, “higher ever higher we rose till the land below became a beautiful rug with a geometric design of all colours… .”
It is said that Canada’s participation in the First World War gave the country its first sense of nationhood. This new consciousness may have been influenced by the wide publication of art works specially commissioned as a visual record of the Canadian forces’ activities. Frank Johnston flew with and painted pilots training at Camp Borden, Ontario. In doing so, he became the first Canadian artist to depict the experience of flight—and to paint the Canadian landscape as seen from the air. He wrote, “higher ever higher we rose till the land below became a beautiful rug with a geometric design of all colours… .”

© 2001, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

On the Front

On the Front.

Arch Williams (1909 - ?)
Canadian Museum of Civilization
1977
CANADA
oil on canvas board
61.00 X 91.30 cm
© Canadian Museum of Civilization


Since the mid-1700s, Newfoundlanders have set sail for the northern icefields every spring to hunt the harp and hooded seal. In former times, “going to the ice” was a way for poor fishermen to earn scarce cash, and a rite of passage for young men. The seals yielded pelts for the world’s fur markets, oil for lamps and tanneries, and meat for fishing families. In recent times, the seal fishery has been attacked as a cruel and needless practice; it has also been staunchly defended as a hunt like any other, and as a necessary measure to protect fish stocks and maintain local traditions.
Since the mid-1700s, Newfoundlanders have set sail for the northern icefields every spring to hunt the harp and hooded seal. In former times, “going to the ice” was a way for poor fishermen to earn scarce cash, and a rite of passage for young men. The seals yielded pelts for the world’s fur markets, oil for lamps and tanneries, and meat for fishing families. In recent times, the seal fishery has been attacked as a cruel and needless practice; it has also been staunchly defended as a hunt like any other, and as a necessary measure to protect fish stocks and maintain local traditions.

© 2001, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

C.P.R. Station in the Rockies

C.P.R. Station in the Rockies

John Hammond (1843 - 1939)
Collection of The Winnipeg Art Gallery; Gift of the Walter Klinkhoff Gallery Inc., Montreal
1901
CANADA
oil on canvas
© The Winnipeg Art Gallery


Construction of a railway across Canada made the dream to link the country from coast to coast a reality. The last spike was driven in November 1885 and the first journey occurred the following June. The Canadian Pacific Railway opened new opportunities for industry, immigration and agriculture by allowing entrance to western and northern regions that were previously only accessible by inconvenient water routes. In this image the small railway station and platform are dwarfed by the gigantic Rocky Mountains, suggesting both the promises of the railway and the daunting obstacles overcome in making it possible.
Construction of a railway across Canada made the dream to link the country from coast to coast a reality. The last spike was driven in November 1885 and the first journey occurred the following June. The Canadian Pacific Railway opened new opportunities for industry, immigration and agriculture by allowing entrance to western and northern regions that were previously only accessible by inconvenient water routes. In this image the small railway station and platform are dwarfed by the gigantic Rocky Mountains, suggesting both the promises of the railway and the daunting obstacles overcome in making it possible.

© 2001, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Many of the first people recording Canada’s landscapes were topographical artists on exploratory expeditions. To capture unique characteristics of the unsettled land, they focussed on flora, fauna, geology and native inhabitants. Sir George Back accompanied Captain John Franklin, the Arctic explorer, on two expeditions to the Polar Sea in search of a NorthWest Passage. Back painted this watercolour of Lake Winnipeg during the second expedition in 1825-27, when they travelled through the Great Lakes and across the Prairie waterways to the West. Back's focus on the small figure contemplating the expansive lake demonstrates his interest in the geological details of the impressive landforms and the human drama of the expedition.
Many of the first people recording Canada’s landscapes were topographical artists on exploratory expeditions. To capture unique characteristics of the unsettled land, they focussed on flora, fauna, geology and native inhabitants. Sir George Back accompanied Captain John Franklin, the Arctic explorer, on two expeditions to the Polar Sea in search of a NorthWest Passage. Back painted this watercolour of Lake Winnipeg during the second expedition in 1825-27, when they travelled through the Great Lakes and across the Prairie waterways to the West. Back's focus on the small figure contemplating the expansive lake demonstrates his interest in the geological details of the impressive landforms and the human drama of the expedition.

© 2001, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Limestone Rocks, Lake Winnipeg

Limestone Rocks, Lake Winnipeg

Sir George Back (1796 - 1878)
Collection of The Winnipeg Art Gallery; Gift of the Women's Committee
1825
CANADA
watercolour and ink on paper
18.00 X 22.70 cm
© The Winnipeg Art Gallery


Springwater, Saskatchewan

Springwater, Saskatchewan

Orest Semchishen (1932 - )
Collection of The Winnipeg Art Gallery; Acquired with the J. Elmer Woods Fund
1983
CANADA
silver print on paper
27,80 X 35,40 cm
© The Winnipeg Art Gallery


Small towns have sprung up across Canada wherever agriculture and industry require transport hubs. When those industries decline, so too do the communities they sustain. Boarded up and abandoned, the gas station and grain elevator in this photograph represent the modern landscape in ruins. One observer remarked that Semchishen “was aware that what he was recording would soon be altered by the inevitable erosion of time.” Though the village of Springwater (population 20) still exists, since this photograph was taken both the elevator and the gas station have been torn down.
Small towns have sprung up across Canada wherever agriculture and industry require transport hubs. When those industries decline, so too do the communities they sustain. Boarded up and abandoned, the gas station and grain elevator in this photograph represent the modern landscape in ruins. One observer remarked that Semchishen “was aware that what he was recording would soon be altered by the inevitable erosion of time.” Though the village of Springwater (population 20) still exists, since this photograph was taken both the elevator and the gas station have been torn down.

© The Winnipeg Art Gallery

Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Comprehend the way people and their landscapes are depicted in art 
  • Be conscious of the emotional impact that is caused and shaped by works of art
  • Be aware of the commonality of themes in landscape art of different North American countries
  • Be aware of the changes in landscape art over time

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