A TRIP TO TOWN, 1865
signed and indistinctly dated "1865"
14.5 x 22 in — 35.6 x 55.9 cm
November 30, 2023
The habitant subject was one that Krieghoff would return to periodically throughout his career. Unlike some of his earlier and more raucous scenes, later depictions of the rural family, per Dennis Reid, are “not simply represented as a compatible grouping but as though it were a well-trained troupe.” (1) In A Trip to Town, we see father and sons in the act of hitching a well-fed horse to a well-made green cariole, as the kerchiefed mother and her chubby baby observe from the warmth of the house. Another woman brings bread from the outdoor bake-oven, perhaps for sale in town. Clearly, the family prospers.
So little is known about Krieghoff’s educational background, it is impossible to speculate as to what interested him about the lives of ordinary Canadians. Ramsay Cook suggests a few reasons: firstly, that Krieghoff might have been drawn to that which made Canada unique, or secondly, that he was able to carve out a market for these scenes among the soldiers stationed in Quebec who were looking for place-specific souvenirs. A third possibility is that Krieghoff was drawing on the Dutch genre scene. Cook notes that Krieghoff’s Dutch-German heritage would have likely exposed him to Dutch genre scenes, which had been central to the visual culture of Holland since the 17th century. His travels around America would have increased the likelihood of him personally studying genre paintings at length. Cook writes that “what is certain is that genre painting was the style that Krieghoff introduced to Canada in the 1840s and would practise with such success throughout his career.” (3)
Unlike his contemporaries including Antoine Plamondon, Théophile Hamel or Joseph Légaré, Krieghoff tended towards the quotidian subjects which were mostly overlooked. Per Cook, “Krieghoff had a different goal: to portray the human condition, not to elevate his viewers above it. Indeed, his pictures often seem designed to make the viewer part of the incident depicted, to bring the viewer inside the picture. That, according to the nineteenth-century French critic Eugène Fromentin, was the great achievement of Dutch art and what distinguished it from the French academic tradition…The more closely these works are examined, the more convincingly they reveal this outsider’s success in drawing his viewers inside part of the world that was nineteenth-century French Canada. Krieghoff saw what he painted; then he transformed it into art.” (3)
(1) Dennis Reid, Krieghoff: Images of Canada, (Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 1999), 85.
(2) Ramsay Cook, “The Outsider as Insider: Cornelius Krieghoff’s Art of Describing”, Krieghoff Images of Canada, ed. Dennis Reid (Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 1999), 155-156.
(3) Cook, 163
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