LOT 229

1815 - 1872

Habitants in a Blizzard
oil on canvas
signed and inscribed "Quebec" and on verso titled and inscribed "Purchased in 1966 from Blair Laing Gallery" on a label
13 x 18 in, 33 x 45.7 cm

Available for post auction sale. CAD
PRICE: $109,250

Preview at: Heffel Montreal

Laing Galleries, Toronto, 1966
Private Collection
Important Canadian Art, Sotheby's Canada in association with Ritchies, May 27, 2003, lot 75
The Collection of Torben V. Kristiansen, Vancouver

Although born and trained in Europe, Cornelius David Krieghoff, following his arrival in Canada in the mid-1840s, quickly became the most important artist working in Quebec. His detailed depictions of the lives of the French-Canadian habitants and the Québécois landscape have come to define our understanding of those who lived in Quebec in the mid-nineteenth century. Krieghoff was particularly drawn to winter scenes that show Québécois navigating the trials of the harsh winter climate.

Habitants in a Blizzard is an excellent example of this subject. In this image, the landscape is almost subsumed in the overwhelming drifts of snow. The snow-encompassed forest on either side of the path acts as a bracket for a small procession. Traveling, in opposite directions, are a habitant couple in their horse-drawn sleigh and a walking coureur de bois accompanied by his dog. The sleigh of the couple coming from the right of the composition is brightly coloured red. This use of red on the sleigh, the black line of the decoration and the carefully depicted tack of the horse suggest the familiarity of close observation, which allows the viewer to feel an immediate understanding of the scene, even if they have not experienced it. Likewise the details of the displaced snow around the sleigh as it moves forward and the snow collecting on the horse suggest both understanding and scrutiny of the scene by the artist.

The two figures traveling in the opposite direction—the coureur de bois (“runner of the woods” or woodsman) and his faithful dog—are also keenly observed. Krieghoff’s care in making the image as legible as possible is seen in the contrast of the man’s blue winter robe, partially covered in snow, and the bright red ceinture fléchée, which he uses as a belt. The hound that follows the coureur de bois is shown with its head in the air and an erect tail, suggesting a marked attention to both its master and the sleigh that the two encounter.

The details of costume and tack (note, for example, the details of the bridle, the blinders at the horse’s eyes and the lines of the tack below the horse’s head) again reveal his close observation. A similar detail is seen in his depiction of the walking man, whom Krieghoff has provided with a pipe. In the background, the artist has included a carefully depicted roadside cross. It contains, at the intersection of the two branches of the cross, some of the instruments of the Passion of Christ, and atop the cross is the rooster of Saint Peter, which represents the saint’s denials of the Saviour. These wayside crosses acted as both shrines and wayfinders for those traveling in the Quebec countryside.

The whole composition is masterful, Krieghoff combining depictions of the settlers of Quebec, their costumes, means of transportation and religious beliefs, all set within the commanding reality of the climate of the region. Interestingly, the one thing that Krieghoff does not accurately depict is the blizzard itself. Although there is evidence of moving snow behind the coureur de bois and around the sleigh, Krieghoff has been careful not to obscure the details of the composition through a screen of snow. Notice, too, the carefully oriented shadows, all of which fall from left to right and allow us to situate the figures within Krieghoff’s space and define the directions of travel.

This image brings together important elements of nineteenth-century Québécois life—the people themselves (habitants), their support animals (horse and dog), the snows of winter, the vast forests of the region, and religious life. This is where Krieghoff’s genius as an artist comes into play. Habitants in a Blizzard is a work created in Krieghoff’s imagination rather than a scene he directly witnessed. An image of Quebec, as suggested by the inscription “Quebec,” but it is a Quebec that, while inspired by things he saw, emerges through Krieghoff’s singular vision. It is a fine and telling example of the artist’s skills as both painter and storyteller.

For the biography on Torben V. Kristiansen in PDF format, please click here.

Available for post auction sale. CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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