Friday, 9 January 2015



Charlotte Schreiber (1834-1922) and Frances Anne Hopkins (1838-1919) are two of the earliest female artists to gain recognition in Canada. Schreiber was the first female to enter the Royal Canadian Academy of Art in 1880 and Hopkins was a member of the British Royal Academy. They were actively painting a generation before Paris had become the definitive centre of both academic and avant-garde art studies for Canadians. Although Paris was an important art centre by the mid-19th century, a number of artists were still influenced by styles elsewhere, such as Victorian England. Victorian art had less of an impact on Canadian art than French art; however it is clear that at least both Schreiber and Hopkins had connections to Victorian England. For example, Schreiber made a series of historical genre illustrations based on the Fairie Queen and Chaucer, something more typical of English artists at the time. Both women engaged in painting portraits in the manner of Victoria portraiture of the time.

Three pen, brush and ink illustrations on paper by Charlotte Schreiber in 1871 at the National Gallery of Canada: "Faire Virgin to redeeme her deere/ Brings Arthure to the fight," " With loftie eyes, halfe loth to look so lowe/ she thancked them in her disdainefull wise," and "A Lovely Ladye rode him faire beside/Upon a lovely Asse more white than snow")

(Frances Anne Hopkins, "No one to Dance With" (1877) oil on board, in a private Canadian collection)

They are both of English origin like many Canadian artists of the time. They are also both very talented artists who adapted to their environments and painted their own experiences in adept realism with hints of Victorian romanticism and sentiment. One of my all-time favourite historical Canadian paintings is Charlotte Schreiber’s Springfield on the Credit, painted circa 1880. Hopkins' paintings that are based on her expeditions to document the wilderness and native peoples are exceptionally detailed and are some of my favourite of this Canadian genre.

(Charlotte Schreiber, "Springfield on the Credit" (circa 1880), oil on canvas, in a Canadian private collection)

(Frances Anne Hopkins, "Canoe Manned by Voyageurs Passing a Waterfall" (1869), "The Red River Expedition at Kalabeka Falls" (1877), and "Voyageurs at Dawn" (1871) all in the National Archives of Canada)

Charlotte Schreiber was the first woman to officially enter the Royal Canadian Academy of Art in 1880, but she was by no stretch the first woman artist in Canada. Yet little mention is made of any particular female artist from before her time. I am not pleading for retrospective recognition of early Canadian female artists based on their having been overshadowed by male artists of equal or lesser talent, as it can be noted that before Cornelius Krieghoff and Paul Kane there are also not very many male artists who are singled out either. Kane and Krieghoff are sometimes referred to as the fathers of Canadian art, and Charlotte Schreiber and Frances Anne Hopkins are active scarcely a generation afterwards. Before this, consideration of Canadian art was through broader themes rather than highlighted individuals, male or female.

Researching early Canadian female artists proved to me that they were engaged in the same artistic activities and trends as their male counterparts from the mid-18th century through to Charlotte Schreiber’s time in the second half of the 19th century. A vast majority of art was made for documentary purposes, such as topographical views and the recording of flora and fauna with botanical drawings and paintings. Portraiture was also a prevalent art form for growing middle and upper classes who wanted to record their families in 18th and 19th century Canada. From the Colonial era and onwards, women were painting adept topographical views, botanical imagery and portraits of quality, and were often recorded as being art teachers in colonial towns and cities. Paul Kane’s wife Harriet (nee Clench) was a skilled draughtsman and Krieghoff taught a gifted landscape artist Alicia Killaly.

(Harriet Kane (nee Clench, c. 1830-1892)) botanical drawings)

(Two watercolours by Alicia Killaly, "Untitled" (circa 1860) and "Horseshoe Falls Niagara")

There are other contemporaries of Killaly and Clench who are worth mentioning, including: Fanny Bayfield, Katherine Ellice, Caroline Estcourt, Maria Morris Miller, Lady Eveline-Marie Alexander, Catherine Parr Traill and her sister Susanna Moodie and niece Agnes Moodie Fitzgibbon. For these artists I was able to more easily find imagery to illustrate the blog, but this is a small selection. Only the very earliest documented colonial art of New France (as discussed in last year’s blog In the Not-So-Bleak-Midwinter) makes no real mention of women artists. The art of that time was almost exclusively produced by and for the Jesuit clergy. I have long felt that Charlotte Schreiber and Frances Anne Hopkins are noteworthy and of interest both for their use of Victorian themes that appear less frequently in Canadian art and for their considerable talents amongst the country's best artists of the mid 19th century. Yet it is clear that there are other pioneering female artists of merit worth investigating early on in the history of Canadian art. I will leave off by sharing some illustrations of works of art by these aforementioned early female artists. Enjoy, and Happy New Year.

(Two works by Fanny Bayfield (1814-1891))

(Caroline Estcourt (1809-1886), "Missisquoi Bay, Lake Champlain QC" (circa 1845))

(Three interior scenes from by Katherine Jane Balfour Ellice (1814-1864), "Depuis les Fenetres du Haut de notre maison a Montreal (1838)," "Interior d'un Salon a Beauharnois (1838)," and "Prison at Auburn, New York" (circa 1830))

(Lady Mary Heaviside Love (active 1806-1868), "Government House, Fredericton, NB" (1831))

(Lady Eveline-Marie Alexander (1818-1906) painting of a man in the snow sold at Bonhams)

(Maria E. Morris Miller (1813-1906), hand-painted lithographs of the Wildflowers of Nova Scotia)

(Susanna Moodie (1803-1885) "Ladyslippers" (1874) watercolour on board)

(Agnes Dunbar Moodie Fitzgibbon (1833-1913) illustrator of Canadian Wildflowers (pub. 1868) with text by her aunt Catherine Parr Traill)