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LOT 138

Cornelius David Krieghoff
1815 - 1872

Spill My Milk
oil on canvas
signed and on verso titled and dated 1854 on the gallery label
14 x 20 1/4 in 35.6 x 51.4 cm

Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000

Sold for: $170,000

Preview at:

An Important Private Collection, Montreal
A.K. Prakash & Associates, Toronto, circa 1998
Masters Gallery Ltd., Calgary, circa 2001
By descent to the present Private Estate, Calgary

J. Russell Harper, Krieghoff, 1979, a similar 1865 oil entitled Spill My Milk!, in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario, reproduced page 90
Dennis Reid, Krieghoff: Images of Quebec, Art Gallery of Ontario, 1999, a similar 1865 oil entitled Spill My Milk!, in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario, reproduced page 257
A.K. Prakash, Canadian Art: Selected Masters from Private Collections, 2003, reproduced page 19

An important part of Cornelius Krieghoff’s oeuvre was the depiction of habitant life. He began to paint this subject soon after arriving in Canada in 1840, first at Montreal and Longueuil, then upon moving to Quebec City in 1853. Spill My Milk, from Krieghoff’s Quebec City period, is a large and complex scene full of the spirited activities of the habitant family carving out their life in the wilderness.
As traditional farming areas along the St. Lawrence filled up, the colonial government, fearing to lose a portion of the francophone Catholic population, opened crown lands in the regions of the Saguenay, St. Maurice River, along the Gatineau River and in parts of the Eastern Townships. While in Quebec City, Krieghoff encountered these kinds of farms in the hinterlands. Krieghoff presents the habitant people as proud and self-sufficient – they cleared the land, built log houses and did everything themselves.
Krieghoff’s expert knowledge of their life is shown in his detailed building of the scene. On the left is a pile of rough logs, and the stumps of the trees line the path behind the house, evidence of the clearing work. A small, sturdy horse - a distinctive breed known as the canadien, descended from Norman and Breton horses introduced into New France in the seventeenth century - draws the simple open-sided sled for hauling goods. The distinctive dress of the people includes sashes on the men, bright red and blue toques and the home-spun clothing of the women. Everyday activities like wood chopping and milking are in progress, and the outdoor oven on the right of the cabin is ready for baking bread. Snowshoes on the front of the cabin show the habitants’ practical way of getting around in the snow.
What also comes through is the distinctive personalities of the people. Although they may have worked hard, they seem undeterred by hardship, and they go about their business with brio. There is a humorous quality to the small prancing figure by the wood-chopping station and the milk spilling out of what seems a rather impractical container. Krieghoff’s depiction of the elements of the scene is theatrical – the farmyard feels like a stage set with characters.
Another important part of this animated image is the landscape – the farm is set into a rugged and striking backdrop with a brilliant blue sky and floating rafts of clouds. The evergreen just behind the house takes our eye straight up into it. In the distance, a warm glow edges the misty Laurentians under the billowing cumulous formations. Krieghoff captures the beauty the habitants were surrounded by, along with the freshness and clarity of the atmosphere.
Krieghoff, with his background in Dutch and German genre painting, was a portrayer of the human condition in his habitant subjects. He brings us into the life of these people, who were the backbone of rural Quebec life, and looks at them from a sympathetic point of view. Spill My Milk is an outstanding example from this part of his oeuvre.

Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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