CROSSING THE ICE WITH THE ROYAL MAIL, QUEBEC (CIRCA 1862)
oil on canvas, mounted to canvas
17.75 ins x 30.25 ins; 45.7 cms x 76.8 cms
In 1853, Cornelius Krieghoff (1815-1872) relocated to Quebec City in search of a fresh market for his paintings. As Dennis Reid reminds us, at that time Quebec was a bustling city:
"Almost as large as Montreal at a population of some 58,000, close to 40 per cent anglophone (as opposed to the then slightly more than 50 per cent anglophone component of the Montreal population) it was the military headquarters for British North America, the centre of the all-important timber trade with Britain, the location of the burgeoning new ship building industry and since October 1851, had been the seat of the government for the province of Canada, a position it would retain until the capital moved again to Toronto in 1855."
According to Russell Harper, the decade or so Krieghoff spent in Quebec City were years of fulfillment for the artist and among his most productive. This lot, depicting a trepidacious winter crossing between Quebec City, whose citadel and ramparts are silhouetted in the distance, and Lévis on the opposite side of the mighty St. Lawrence River, dates to that happy and productive period. Harper writes:
"Passengers between Quebec and Lévis on the other side of the St. Lawrence travelled during the winter months aboard special Royal Mail canoes. The boatmen or canotiers who operated these were a hardy breed who jumped out on the ice floes which impeded their progress and hauled the wooden canoes over the obstacles. Some passengers who gave them a hand received a reduction in their passage money. It was an adventurous trip for the uninitiated, and one of the experiences remembered by visitors to Quebec in the winter months."
Our canoe bears the responsibility of safe passage for eleven people - including one woman, seated on a thick bear skin rug, and a black dog. It is fair to imagine that this is not their first crossing for none seems particularly alarmed by what appears to be an experience that could have an uncertain outcome.
Marius Barbeau, Krieghoff's early biographer, lists six known versions of this subject as well as one print which was produced by Kell brothers, in 1860. At over 17 by 30 inches, this canvas would be the largest known version of the subject.
Marius Barbeau, Cornelius Krieghoff: Pioneer Painter of North America, MacMillan Company of Canada Limited, Toronto, 1934, pages 129-130.
J. Russell Harper, Krieghoff, Key Porter Books Limited, Toronto, 1999, pages 88-89, page 59, cover illustration for closely related painting of the same subject (detail), and page xv, colour plate 5, for the cover work (probably of a slightly later date than our lot), reproduced in its entirety.
Dennis Reid, Krieghoff: Images of Canada, Douglas & McIntyre / Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 1999, page 71 and page 142, plate 82 for the print of this subject, reproduced in colour.