Saturday, 22 December 2012


During the holiday season we are often reminded of longstanding seasonal traditions. This often brings forth the nostalgia for the seemingly quaint and ideal ways of the past. In Canada, thoughts of the comings and goings of a peaceful snow covered pastoral countryside or village are evoked nationwide. Nothing symbolizes this better than the iconic horse-drawn sleigh, which is fitting imagery to represent the cold Canadian yuletide. It is seen on greeting cards, flyers and posters, and turned into three-dimensional Christmas decorations. However, the horse-drawn sleigh has also become a celebrated and desirable theme within the history of Canadian art. Early ideas of nationalism in Canadian landscape art have cultivated the wintertime as favoured subject matter; and the horse-drawn sleigh is frequently present. Particularly in Quebec, the horse-drawn sleigh is a paramount feature in the work of the region’s most renowned local and visiting artists.

Many charming historical works that incorporate a horse-drawn sleigh can be found in major Canadian public institutions. Examples from both the 19th and 20th century exemplify the enduring prevalence of the subject matter over time. A mid-19th century work by Robert Clow Todd illustrates a favoured Quebecois subject The Ice Cone, Montmorency Falls, Quebec and depicts numerous horse-drawn sleighs in both the foreground and background of the work. Also active in the mid-19th century was well-known artist Cornelius Krieghoff, whom frequently included the sleigh in his genre paintings, such as The Toll Gate, 1861 and Sleigh Scene, Winter, Quebec, 1867. Working slightly later but still within a traditional style was Frederick Coburn; who painted horse-drawn sleighs and carts almost exclusively.

Into the early twentieth century, Canadian Impressionists such as James Wilson Morrice, Maurice Cullen and particularly Clarence Gagnon were known to have placed sleighs amongst their impressionistic depictions of wintery Quebec. Two charming examples by Morrice from circa 1909 The Old Holton House and 1910 Quebec Farmhouse can be found in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Group of Seven member A.Y. Jackson is know for including horses pulling a sleigh along the paths of his Quebec country village scenes. This is clear in numerous major canvases of Jackson’s in public institutions, such as Winter, Quebec

from 1926 in the National Gallery. Although Jackson is well-known for his inclusion of the sleigh in his winter scenes, he is not the only Group of Seven member to depict them. There is a quaint winter scene by Lawren Harris entitled Red Sleigh, House, Winter from 1919 at McGill University. This work perfectly captures the aura of bygone holiday seasons.

Highlights at Masters Gallery in Calgary from the past year include Cornelius Krieghoff’s Canadiens Preparing for Town and Clarence Gagnon’s A Laurentian Homestead, Les Eboulements.

By: Jill Turner

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