Lot # 119
Spring 2013 - 2nd Session Live auction

Robert Wakeham Pilot
CGP OSA PRCA 1898 - 1967 Canadian

Indian Fur Traders
oil on canvas on board
signed and dated 1925
72 x 122 5/8 in  182.9 x 311.4cm

Provenance:
The PSBGM Cultural Heritage Foundation

Literature:
Tim E. Holzkamm, “Traders of the Plains: The European Fur Trade and the Westward Expansion of the Dakota or Sioux Indians”, 1981, Open Access Dissertations and Theses, link, accessed February 20, 2013

Painted four years before Early Explorers, lot 120 in this sale, this Robert Pilot mural, offered by the PSBGM Cultural Heritage Foundation, depicts a familiar subject: native people and men of European background engaged in a commercial exchange related to the fur trade. This subject had been painted by other artists - for example, Toronto muralist Frederick S. Challener’s A View of Fort Rouillé, produced in 1928 for the offices of Loblaws, a major Toronto food company. The foreground of that work is occupied by a circle of natives sitting on the ground and engaged in trade with a single military man. Before 1906, Challener had produced an earlier version of the same subject for the King Edward Hotel in Toronto. In 1929, the famous historical illustrator C.W. Jefferys painted a scene of the exchange of goods between natives and French settlers for Le Manoir Richelieu in Murray Bay, Quebec. Even closer to the setting of Pilot’s murals were the scenes painted by Georges Agnew Reid for the auditorium of a Toronto high school, the Jarvis Collegiate Institute, between 1929 and 1930. One of the panels he produced was entitled Hudson’s Bay Company, Fur Trading in James Bay, 1668.
What is original in the case of Pilot’s mural is the Plains locale of the scene depicted. Considering the presence of the teepees in the background and the majestic feather headpiece of the Indian chief presenting furs to a trader, we are certainly among the Plains Indians; probably the Dakotas, who served as middlemen between other tribes of the Plains and the traders. The silhouette of a red buffalo on one of the teepees also confirms this locale. It also indicates that the shift in the fur trade from beaver pelts to bison robes, which occurred in the 1830s, was well under way. It would be impossible to interpret the furs being offered by the chief in Pilot’s mural as beaver pelts. The composition of this mural is similar to Early Explorers, with which it makes a pair. One finds again two groups of people facing each other in the foreground with a triangular shape of the teepee in the background. In the canoe are the trade goods the traders are offering in return for the furs. With these two murals, Pilot was covering an aspect of the history of Canada when European-Canadian settlers were confronted with Aboriginal populations - but he chose to represent moments of collaboration instead of warfare, moments of exchange of knowledge and skill instead of ignorance and barbarism. Needless to say, that was well suited to the educational purpose of the murals in their original placement in schools.
Let us hope that these murals will find public exposure. They could have much significance in a museum setting, where their intent could be clearly explained and situated in the context of historical painting. In other public places, as with their first provenance, schools or public buildings (either private or governmental) could give them the exposure they deserve. These works also add to our knowledge of Pilot’s art, which has been seen almost exclusively as landscapes or Quebec City scenes.
We thank François-Marc Gagnon of the Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute of Studies in Canadian Art, Concordia University, for contributing the above essay.

Estimate: $100,000 ~ $150,000 CAD  
Sold for: $93,600 CAD (including Buyer's Premium)

All prices are in Canadian Dollars.

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