Monday, November 9, 2009

Cornelius Kreighoff - a troublesome reputation?

The Canadian Encyclopedia Online gives readers an interesting study of the life of Dutch artist, Cornelius Kreighoff. Kreighoff was born in Amsterdam in 1815, and died in Chicago in 1872. Kreighoff emigrated to the United States, and from there migrated to Boucherville, Quebec, the home of his wife's parents.

Kreighoff focused on French Canadians and Natives, in much of his Canadian artwork. His work received considerable status, since he was reputedly the first significant painter to present and interpret Canadian life.

Recent critics have noted that Krieghoff's art was less then complimentary of French Canadians, and that he sought recognition and status among the English military community.

"His French habitant scenes cover a range of situations: in some, for example, folk greet one another en route, play cards, race their sleds, fraternize at the local inn, or attempt to settle a tract of un-arable land - granted to them by the government - in the hinterlands of Québec. In another typical scene, a British solider flirts with a young francophone woman, the intimate moment interrupted by her husband or a parent. In Breaking Lent (The Thomson Collection), the local priest, stern and imposing, has arrived unannounced at a parishioner's humble abode only to catch the family in the forbidden act of eating meat during Lent. Whether viewed as benign narratives or subtle, satirical commentaries on French Québec society, such genre scenes often evidence Krieghoff's awareness of the relationship between ethnic groups and/or social classes."

Please click on this line, which is a link to the Canadiana Encyclopedia article on Kreikhoff.

This interpretation of Kreighoff''s art is generous, compared to what I have heard French Canadian art critics say about his work. Some say his work is patronizing and demeaning to rural French Canadians. If you double click the large top picture, it will open in size and you can study it closely. The picture, show the hardness of daily life in the world of the French settler. Its a harsh, basic, life reality painting.

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