LOT 117

1815 - 1872

Portage, Ste-Anne River, Quebec
oil on canvas
signed and dated 1854 and on verso titled Portage, St. Ann River, Quebec [sic] on the gallery label
12 1/4 x 18 in, 31.1 x 45.7 cm

Estimate: $50,000 - $70,000 CAD

Sold for: $49,250

Preview at:

J. Mott Esq., Toronto, 1857
Galerie Bernard Desroches, Montreal
Canadian Art, Joyner Fine Art, May 20, 1987, lot 40
Private Collection, Toronto

By the early 1850s, Cornelius Krieghoff was an established cultural figure in Montreal, with a close circle of artist friends, patrons and business associates, and several important public and private commissions to his name. Yet Montreal was not the thriving cosmopolitan capital it had once been. Plagued by economic difficulties and political unrest that culminated in the burning of the city’s parliament buildings, Montreal lost its status as the capital of the Province of Canada in 1849 in favour of Quebec City and Toronto. An exodus of Montreal’s civil servants and government officials soon followed, together with the businesses that served them. According to J. Russell Harper, “Cosmopolitan life slowed to a virtual halt. Montreal’s sparkle had dimmed, and so had its potential as a market for art.”[1]

The impact on Krieghoff was likely considerable, and there are indications that he suffered financial hardship. While he continued to produce a steady supply of paintings, he laboured to sell his work, assertively marketing his pictures at auction, producing prints and, according to some accounts, peddling door to door.

Around 1853, Krieghoff moved to Quebec City, which sparked the most productive and successful period of his career. At that time, Quebec City was almost as large as Montreal; it had a population of some 58,000, which was close to 40 percent Anglophone. It was also the military headquarters for British North America, the location of a thriving shipbuilding industry, and, since October 1851, had been the seat of government for the Province of Canada.[2]

Early on, Krieghoff found support among Anglophones working in the timber trade, and this influenced his appreciation of the natural wilderness surrounding his new home. From this point forward, Krieghoff became increasingly interested in the formal aspects of landscape painting, and the landscape itself, rather than the figures, became the central focus of his work. While the figures remained, they were subordinate elements of the composition, visual devices lending scale to the soaring majesty of the Canadian forests, rivers and waterfalls.

In 1854 – 1855, Krieghoff painted several canvases of the Sainte-Anne River, including a pair of paintings of Sainte-Anne Falls now in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada. A tributary of the St. Lawrence northeast of Quebec City, the Sainte-Anne may have been visited by Krieghoff on one of the many hunting and fishing trips he undertook with his friends, often led by Indigenous guides.

In the present work, Portage, Ste-Anne River, Quebec, a small group of Indigenous hunters takes rest in a clearing along the banks of the river. Their upturned canoe lies on a rocky promontory next to a small, yet treacherous cascade. One figure stretches on his stomach while another appears to be starting a campfire. Our eye is drawn to the hunters, in part due to the beautifully described evergreen towering above them that acts as a centrepiece to the composition. Krieghoff presents the figures as though on a stage, illuminated by a break in the clouds and framed by the trees, the upturned canoe, and the large boulder at right. However, the hunters’ reduced scale diminishes their importance to the composition, and they are quickly subsumed by the sumptuous landscape.

The composition’s many diagonal lines create movement, urging the viewer onwards to explore the scene’s visual delights: the river winding into the hazy distance bordered by dense forest; the hills cloaked with green underbrush rising steeply behind the hunters; the expressive textural details of the rocks contrasting with the soft, gold-tinged grass. Overhead, sunlight filters through blustery autumn clouds, creating swathes of light and shadow across the composition and allowing Krieghoff to demonstrate his virtuosity with colour, showcasing an astonishing spectrum of green, brown and ochre hues.

Portage, Ste-Anne River, Quebec displays Krieghoff’s tremendous skill as a landscape painter at the moment that marked a turning point in his interests, ushering in the most prolific and successful period of his career.

1. J. Russell Harper, Krieghoff (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1979), 57.

2. Dennis Reid, Krieghoff: Images of Canada (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, in assoc. with Douglas & McIntyre, 1999), 70–71.

Estimate: $50,000 - $70,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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