Canadian art and architecture

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Canadian art and architecture,

the various types and styles arts and structures produced in the geographic area that now constitutes Canada.

For a discussion of the art of indigenous peoples of Canada, see North American Native artNorth American Native art,
diverse traditional arts of Native North Americans. In recent years Native American arts have become commodities collected and marketed by nonindigenous Americans and Europeans.
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The Colonial Period

Among the outstanding art forms of early colonial Canada was French-Canadian wood carving, chiefly figures of saints and retables for the churches. This art flourished from 1675 (when Bishop Laval established a school of arts and crafts near Quebec) until c.1850. The art reached its height after the separation from France when, freed from the French Renaissance tradition, it developed a local character beautifully exemplified in such work as that in the Church of the Holy Family on Orléans Island and in the Provincial Museum at Quebec. The two great Quebec families of carvers were the Levasseurs (18th cent.) and the Baillairgés (19th cent.).

The colonial period also produced fine embroidery (examples are kept at the Ursuline convent, Quebec) and several outstanding portraits executed in a naive folk-art style. Before 1880 most of the only other paintings and drawings produced in Canada were those by the colonial topographers, many of them English army officers. Most of this work is purely documentary.


Paul KaneKane, Paul,
1810–71, Canadian painter, b. Ireland. Kane went to Toronto as a child. He studied art in the United States (1836–41) and in Europe (1841–45).
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, who painted Native Americans, and Cornelius KrieghoffKrieghoff, Cornelius
, 1812–72, Canadian painter, b. Düsseldorf, Germany. He traveled widely and took part in the Seminole wars in Florida as a member of the U.S. army. Commissioned by the War Dept.
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, who depicted the life of the settlers, were the earliest genregenre
, in art-history terminology, a type of painting dealing with unidealized scenes and subjects of everyday life. Although practiced in ancient art, as shown by Pompeiian frescoes, and in the Middle Ages, genre was not recognized as worthy and independent subject matter
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 painters. Thomas Davies produced vibrant landscapes in watercolor in the second half of the 18th cent. J. A. Fraser, known for his scenes of the Rockies, was instrumental in founding the Ontario College of Art at Toronto in 1875. Five years later the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (at Montreal) and the National Gallery of Canada (at Ottawa) were founded. Since 1910 the National Gallery has played an active part in Canadian life through its traveling exhibits. Its collection is the finest in Canada. Today there are art schools and galleries in all the major Canadian cities.

In the late 19th cent. the outstanding artists were the landscapists Daniel Fowler, F. M. Bell-Smith, and Robert Gagen; the portrait painters Robert Harris, Antoine Palamondon, and Théophile Hamel; and two great cartoonists, J. W. Bengough and Henri Julien. They were followed by a number of celebrated painters, including George A. Reid, Franklin Brownell, Florence Carlyle, F. McG. Knowles, Horatio WalkerWalker, Horatio,
1858–1938, Canadian painter, b. Ontario, largely self-taught. Though he lived in Rochester and New York City, he painted chiefly scenes from the simple life of the inhabitants of the Île d'Orléans in the St. Lawrence.
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, M. A. de Foy Suzor-CôtéSuzor-Côté, Marc Aurèle de Foy
, 1869–1937, Canadian painter and sculptor, b. Quebec prov. He studied in Paris in the 1890s, then returned to paint Canadian genre scenes in an impressionist style.
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, William Brymner, Maurice Cullen, and Tom ThomsonThomson, Tom,
1877–1917, Canadian painter of typically Canadian outdoor scenes, b. Ontario. Thomson was self-taught. Most of the year he served as a guide at Algonquin Provincial Park in order to support himself as a painter.
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. J. W. MorriceMorrice, James Wilson
, 1865–1924, Canadian painter, b. Montreal. Abandoning law, he went to Paris, where he studied painting. He visited Venice, Trinidad, Tunis, and periodically returned to Canada.
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, who worked chiefly outside Canada, is perhaps the most celebrated of Canadian landscapists.

In 1920 Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A. Y. Jackson, Franz H. Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J. E. H. MacDonald, and F. Horsman Varley formed the Group of Seven, dedicated to painting the Canadian landscape. Traveling and working all over the dominion, they did much to awaken the interest of the country at large. Their approach, which emphasized flat, strongly colored design, tended toward a poster style. The cultural center of the Seven was Toronto. In Montreal toward the end of World War II a new, radical group was formed, including Alfred PellanPellan, Alfred
, 1906–88, Canadian painter, b. Quebec. Pellan sold his painting Corner of Old Quebec to the National Gallery, Ottawa, when he was 16. He lived in Paris from 1926 until 1940, when he returned to Canada.
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, John Lyman, P. E. Borduas, and J. P. Riopelle. They evolved the automatiste movement, influenced by Matisse, Picasso, and surrealismsurrealism
, literary and art movement influenced by Freudianism and dedicated to the expression of imagination as revealed in dreams, free of the conscious control of reason and free of convention.
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Other major painters, working in a wide variety of styles, include David MilneMilne, David,
1882–1953, Canadian painter, b. Ontario. He grew up in Canada and came to the United States in 1903, living for 13 years in New York City, where he studied at the Art Students League. From 1908 on Milne worked mainly in watercolor.
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, Emily CarrCarr, Emily,
1871–1945, Canadian painter. She studied (1889–c.1895) at the San Francisco School of Art and later in London and in Paris. In Victoria, British Columbia, she taught painting and visited native villages.
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, Pegi Nicol MacLeod, B. C. Binning, J. L. Shadbolt, and Harold Town. In the late 1960s the op artop art
, movement that became prominent in the United States and Europe in the mid-1960s. Deriving from abstract expressionism, op art includes paintings concerned with surface kinetics. Colors were used to create visual effects, such as afterimages and trompe l'oeil.
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 movement flourished in Montreal. Canadian painters currently at work employ a variety of postmodern styles and cannot be grouped as a school.

Sculpture, Decorative Arts, and Graphics

After the decline of wood carving, little sculpture was produced until 1900. Philippe HébertHébert, Philippe
, 1850–1917, Canadian sculptor, b. Halifax, N.S. He studied in Italy (1869–71) and in Paris, and after 1902 he became the most noted sculptor and monument designer of his time in Canada.
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, Suzor-Côté, Alfred Laliberté, Tait McKenzie, and Walter Allward became well-established sculptors. Among the later sculptors, Emanuel Hahn, Louis Archambault, Elizabeth Wyn Wood, and Henri Hébert are notable. The French Canadians have an important tradition in such decorative arts and crafts as metalworking and rug hooking. In the graphic arts Clarence Gagnon, W. J. Phillips, and Albert Dumouchel are considered among the foremost Canadian print makers of the 20th cent.


Canadian architecture adheres in the main to European and American trends, especially in the planning of public buildings. From the 18th to the 20th cent., French Renaissance, English Georgian, Neoclassical, and Gothic revival designs were successively dominant. A notable example of Gothic revival is found in the buildings of Parliament Hill, Ottawa (begun 1859), by Thomas Fuller and others. The Canadian Centre for Architecture (Montreal), a modern archive and research center created by Phyllis Lambert, opened in 1989. Based on the ideas of H. H. Richardson, well-known structures in the château style are the Château Frontenac (1890), Quebec City, and the Banff Springs Hotel (1913), Banff, Alberta.

Major modern buildings include the Electrical Building and Civic Auditorium, Vancouver, British Columbia, and the Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario. Church and domestic architecture in Canada have consistently shown originality. Particularly in Quebec during the colonial period, charming rural stone houses and churches were developed—typically low and rectangular, with steep pitched roofs and uptilting eaves. Moshe SafdieSafdie, Moshe
, 1938–, Israeli-Canadian architect, b. Haifa. He grew up in Israel, moved to Canada with his family at 15, studied architecture at McGill Univ. and with Louis Kahn, and later opened an office in Montreal.
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's remarkable "Habitat," a dynamic and original approach to housing, was erected in Montreal for Expo '67. Arthur Erickson is among the best-known of contemporary Canadian architects.


See studies on Canadian art by J. R. Harper (1966 and 1972) and W. Townsend, ed. (1970); on architecture by P. Mayrand and J. Bland (1971); D. Reid, A Concise History of Canadian Painting (1974); D. G. Burnett, Contemporary Canadian Art (1983); L. Whiteson, Modern Canadian Architecture (1983).

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