Some art images have become visual shorthand for a country’s culture and values, expressing, as the saying goes, a thousand words. These icons evoke shared feelings and ideas, which are the basis of a nation’s identity. The powerful images shown here may depict a person; an object, like the Canadian maple leaf; or a place. Comparing images that stir national pride, we readily see that pictures from each North American country are different, but their power and spirit are similar.

Some art images have become visual shorthand for a country’s culture and values, expressing, as the saying goes, a thousand words. These icons evoke shared feelings and ideas, which are the basis of a nation’s identity. The powerful images shown here may depict a person; an object, like the Canadian maple leaf; or a place. Comparing images that stir national pride, we readily see that pictures from each North American country are different, but their power and spirit are similar.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Sunrise on Percé Beach

Sunrise on Percé Beach

Lucius O’Brien (1832 - 1899)
Collection of The Winnipeg Art Gallery; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Naylor, in memory of her father, the Honourable T.A. Crerar, P.C.C.C., L.L.D.
1882
CANADA
watercolour on paper
24.50 X 35.40 cm
© The Winnipeg Art Gallery


As president of the Royal Canadian Academy, Lucius O’Brien was sensitive to representing all regions of Canada in his art. Travelling extensively via the newly-completed coast-to-coast railway, he recorded natural wonders of the country, imbuing his paintings with luminous colour and atmosphere that suggest the landscape’s poetic and spiritually inspiring qualities. He saw his monumental images as tools to incite national pride in Canada’s diverse geography. This watercolour of the Gaspé Peninsula on Canada’s East Coast would have suggested the promise of a young country rife with breathtaking scenery, evoking nationalist sentiment in new Canadian viewers.
As president of the Royal Canadian Academy, Lucius O’Brien was sensitive to representing all regions of Canada in his art. Travelling extensively via the newly-completed coast-to-coast railway, he recorded natural wonders of the country, imbuing his paintings with luminous colour and atmosphere that suggest the landscape’s poetic and spiritually inspiring qualities. He saw his monumental images as tools to incite national pride in Canada’s diverse geography. This watercolour of the Gaspé Peninsula on Canada’s East Coast would have suggested the promise of a young country rife with breathtaking scenery, evoking nationalist sentiment in new Canadian viewers.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Untitled

Untitled

Christian N. Frey (1886 - 1950)
Canadian Museum of Civilization
1905 - 1920
CANADA
oil on canvas
35.00 X 61.50 cm
© Canadian Museum of Civilization


Canadians are proud of the fact that law and order travelled in advance of white settlement of the Canadian West. From 1873, as pioneers arrived, they found scarlet-coated contingents of what was called the North West Mounted Police, who mediated conflicts and kept the peace. Renamed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1919, the “Mounties” have become a symbol of Canada. Whatever story is being told in the above painting, the nationality of the figure at the right—and therefore the scene’s locale—is clear to any viewer in the modern world.
Canadians are proud of the fact that law and order travelled in advance of white settlement of the Canadian West. From 1873, as pioneers arrived, they found scarlet-coated contingents of what was called the North West Mounted Police, who mediated conflicts and kept the peace. Renamed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1919, the “Mounties” have become a symbol of Canada. Whatever story is being told in the above painting, the nationality of the figure at the right—and therefore the scene’s locale—is clear to any viewer in the modern world.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Grain Elevator at La Salle, Manitoba

Grain Elevator at La Salle, Manitoba

Walter J. Phillips (1884 - 1963)
Collection of The Winnipeg Art Gallery; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Naylor
1931
CANADA
woodblock on pape
22.90 X 34.70 cm
© The Winnipeg Art Gallery


The image of the grain elevator symbolizes the changing face of Western Canada. At one time every Prairie community along the rail line was signified by a grain elevator. These monumental structures reaching up from the flat horizon to meet the vast sky were colourful icons of the importance of grain production to Canadian Prairie identity. Now mostly abandoned and replaced with nondescript mega-structures for grain storage, the elevators and the small towns around them are quickly disappearing from the landscape. Phillips has captured the beauty and significance of this unique architectural form at the height of its usefulness.
The image of the grain elevator symbolizes the changing face of Western Canada. At one time every Prairie community along the rail line was signified by a grain elevator. These monumental structures reaching up from the flat horizon to meet the vast sky were colourful icons of the importance of grain production to Canadian Prairie identity. Now mostly abandoned and replaced with nondescript mega-structures for grain storage, the elevators and the small towns around them are quickly disappearing from the landscape. Phillips has captured the beauty and significance of this unique architectural form at the height of its usefulness.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Untitled

Untitled

Unknown
Canadian Museum of Civilization
Date ?
CANADA
synthetic, burlap
41.00 X 55.00 cm
© Canadian Museum of Civilization


The fineness of the work, the synthetic material, and the muted, subtle beauty of the design indicate that this hooked rug masterpiece is a Grenfell mat. It is quintessentially Canadian not only in its Canada-goose-north-woods iconography, but in the international mix of contexts within which it was created. Dr. Wilfred Grenfell was an Englishman who established hospitals, schools, and crafts cooperatives in northern Newfoundland and Labrador. There, local women learned to hook mats to be marketed to New England matrons, who were in turn solicited for donations of used nylon stockings to be hooked into the next winter’s rugs.
The fineness of the work, the synthetic material, and the muted, subtle beauty of the design indicate that this hooked rug masterpiece is a Grenfell mat. It is quintessentially Canadian not only in its Canada-goose-north-woods iconography, but in the international mix of contexts within which it was created. Dr. Wilfred Grenfell was an Englishman who established hospitals, schools, and crafts cooperatives in northern Newfoundland and Labrador. There, local women learned to hook mats to be marketed to New England matrons, who were in turn solicited for donations of used nylon stockings to be hooked into the next winter’s rugs.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Early Snow

Early Snow

Tom Thomson (1877 - 1917)
Collection of The Winnipeg Art Gallery; Acquired with the assistance of a grant recommended by the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board, and approved by the Minister of Canadian Heritage under the terms of the Cultural Property Export and Import Act, and with contributions by The Winnipeg Foundation, The Thomas Sill Foundation Inc., The Winnipeg Art Gallery Foundation Inc., Mr. and Mrs. G.B. Wiswell Fund, DeFehr Foundation Inc., Loch and Mayberry Fine Art Inc, and several anonymous donors.
1916
CANADA
oil on canvas
44.60 X 44.60 cm
© The Winnipeg Art Gallery


Early Snow speaks of Canada’s search for national identity in the early 20th century. Seeking to create a truly Canadian artistic expression, Tom Thomson painted the rugged rocks, trees and lakes of the Canadian Shield north of Toronto, Ontario. He felt that images of this uninhabited region reflected Canada as a young, resource-rich nation. Thomson used bright colours and simplified forms to capture the raw beauty and splendour of the wilderness. His style was innovative as well as shocking. Nearly a century later, Thomson’s iconic images are the most recognizable of all Canadian art.
Early Snow speaks of Canada’s search for national identity in the early 20th century. Seeking to create a truly Canadian artistic expression, Tom Thomson painted the rugged rocks, trees and lakes of the Canadian Shield north of Toronto, Ontario. He felt that images of this uninhabited region reflected Canada as a young, resource-rich nation. Thomson used bright colours and simplified forms to capture the raw beauty and splendour of the wilderness. His style was innovative as well as shocking. Nearly a century later, Thomson’s iconic images are the most recognizable of all Canadian art.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Be conscious of the emotional impact that is caused and shaped by a work of art
  • Recognize that art, in the form of national icons, shapes and affirms a nation’s identity
  • Recognize national icons and the country to which they belong, and form an opinion about the identity of the nation they represent
  • Be aware of the commonality of themes in landscape art among the three North American countries

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