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Research Guides

Paul Kane


Independent Canadian Traveler (1846-1847)

A striking characteristic of Mr. Kane’s paintings, particularly in their present state, is the truthfulness. Nothing has been sacrificed to effect--no exaggerated examples of costumes--no incredible distortions of features--are permitted to move our wonder, or exalt our conceptions of what is sufficiently wild and striking without improvement. [38]

Introduction

Explorer and artist Paul Kane, an Irish-Canadian, after studying painting in Europe for four years, returned to North America "determined to devote whatever talents and proficiency I possessed to the painting of a series of pictures illustrative of the North American Indians and scenery". [39]

Kane traveled through British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon in 1846-47, only one year after Henry Warre. During that time he was fueled by his conviction, but had sparse financial or collateral support. Upon return from his travels, Kane worked to secure funding and subscribers for publication, and also to produce paintings from his field sketches. Given some financial support from the Canadian government (in exchange for 12 paintings) and with a letter of support from Sir George Simpson of the Hudson's Bay Company as an introduction to influential London company officials which helped pave his way toward acceptance of his manuscript by a publisher, Kane's Wanderings was eventually published in 1859.

Original Publication

Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America, from Canada to Vancouver's Island and Oregon, through the Hudson's Bay Company's Territory and Back Again was published in London by Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts in 1859.

Of the 21 illustrations, 8 of them are chromolithographs and the rest are woods engravings.

Three foreign language editions were published within 4 years. The French edition omits Kane's name and is without illustrations. The German version (1860) is elaborated, with 4 new plates and 62 invented engravings.

Biography of Artist

As a young man in Toronto, Paul Kane (1810-1871) worked as a decorative furniture painter and studied with Thomas Drury. Spurred by his friends and fellow Canadian painters, Samuel Bell Waugh and James Bowman, Kane went to live in the United States for five years before leaving to study in Italy. On the return trip to the U.S., Kane spent time in London where he likely attended George Catlin's exhibition of his paintings and ethnographic artifacts from North American Indians. The romanticization of Native American life, coupled with a growing awareness of the impact of white settlers, solidified Kane's resolve to paint Indians. "Like Catlin, Kane felt impelled to preserve for posterity a record of the Indian chieftains, the customs of the tribes and the lands where they lived before change had made such a record impossible."[40] This became the impetus for Kane's travel.

Kane was concerned that his paintings might not be seen as truthful depictions (perhaps in response to Catlin), that he might be seen as an imposter. His solution was to obtain written certifications from well-placed Hudson's Bay Company representatives as to the authenticity of the renderings. The above quotation is an example.

Suffering from blindness in his middle age and having to abandon painting, Kane died in 1871 in Toronto.

Large holdings of Kane's sketches and paintings can be found at the Stark Museum of Art in Orange, Texas and in the Royal Ontario Museum.

Holdings

Special Collection holds the original publication in English, as well as foreign language editions. A comprehensive biography and catalogue raisonné of Kane's work can be found in Paul Kane's Frontier by J. Russell Harper in a special edition.  Various reprints of Kane's Wanderings, although with poor reproductions, can be found by searching Paul Kane as author.

 


[38] Kane, Paul Kane's Frontier; Including Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America, by Paul Kane. Edited with a Biographical Introd. And a Catalogue Raisonne by J. Russell Harper, 28. Quotation comes from Hugh Scobie, journalist, British Colonist. Commentary from November 17, 1848.
[39] Ibid., 51. Kane’s opening line in preface to his Wanderings of an Artist.
[40] Ibid., 15.