Monday, October 22, 2012

John Howard: Early Toronto Artist and Documentarian

Mr. T.Tinning, Rescuing the Crew of the Pacific, 1875.
Artist: John Howard

19th Century Canadian documentary watercolouring tends to be pretty dull stuff as far as art goes. That being said, along comes John Howard who was born in 1803, in Bengeo, Hertfertshire, England, and who emigratated to Canada, lived in Toronto, and who was an architect, surveyor, civil engineer, and artist. Howard died in 1890 in Toronto's Colborne Lodge.

'Rescuing the Crew of the Pacific, 1975', not only captures a significant event along the Toronto shoreline but it is in its own right, a substantial painting. Its loaded with colour, drama, and action.

To begin, its a painting of hope. The black storm cloud which hangs over the centre of the work, doesn't dominate the sky. There is a variety of colours and cloud shapes. The shafts of light provide a visual line from the sunlit upper sky down onto the sky brightened, lake surface.

There is even an element of artistic contrast. The black sky contrasts with the colourful waves. The turbulence and drama of the scene contrasts with the idle curiosity of the people who observe from the boardwalk.

Its hard to criticize this work since the painter's primary intent is to document an important event. Its easy to overlook such composition issues as the unnaturally long wave formations and the predictably uniform shoreline and the continuous, unbroken, white line of waves that wash up on the shore from left side to centre.

In the end, its a painting that's nearing the end of an era before the advent of the camera. With that in mind, I can imagine that it would have elicited emotional response from those who viewed it.

John Howard's Biography
Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
Please click here

Virtual Museum of Toronto, - Historical Collection
Please click here

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