Paul Kane

Kane's artwork is some of the earliest and, in many cases, the only record of life in the Northwest before it was changed by white settlement. His romantic oil paintings, along with the best-selling book about his travels, influenced domestic and international perceptions of North American Aboriginal people.

Today, Paul Kane remains one of the most frequently reproduced Canadian painters, past or present. His pictures of early native life are used to illustrate history in books, films, and at historic sites. While his artwork is familiar, Kane the artist is not as well-known. Paul Kane's two year sketching trip across thousands of miles of difficult frontier is still unequaled by any other artist on the continent. In another sense, Paul Kane was one the first "tourists" as opposed to explorer, trapper or surveyor to travel the northern fur-trade route from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Ocean.

Kane has in recent years been identified as one of the most important ethnological artists of nineteenth-century North America; a group that includes his U.S. mentor, George Catlin, along with Charles Bird King, Karl Bodmer, Alfred Jacob Miller, and John Mix Stanley.

Paul Kane (1810-1871) was hailed within his own lifetime as the "father" of Canadian art. Today, that title is shared among a number of progenitors - notably, Cornelius Krieghoff, a German imimigrant, and his Quebecois contemporaries, Joseph Légaré, Antoine Plamondon and Théophile Hamel - but the Irish-born, Toronto-raised Kane still counts as "the first" on a number of important fronts. He was, for instance:

  • The first North American painter to depict the continent's Native peoples from the forests of what is now Ontario across the future prairie provinces, over the Rockies to what would enter Confederation as British Columbia, and then in the US territories that became the present-day states of Washington and Oregon.
  • The first Canadian artist to hold a solo exhibition (on his return from his two-year expedition in 1848).
  • The first Canadian artist to gain widespread international recognition.
  • The first Canadian painter to be credited with a best-selling book, Wanderings of an Artist Among the Indians of North America, published in London in 1859, followed by French, Danish and German translations.
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Paul Kane
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Historical works of significance


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