1815 - 1872
Sunset in the Woods
oil on canvas
signed and dated 1865 and on verso inscribed "Mrs. A.P. Murray, Montreal"
13 x 18 in 33 x 45.7 cm
Estimate: $70,000 - $90,000
Sold for: $109,250
Preview at: Heffel Montreal
W.G. Murray, Montreal, acquired circa 1890
Mrs. Geoffrey Elliot-Square (née Annabella Murray), Montreal
Katharine Grace Murray, Montreal
Sold sale of Important Canadian Paintings, Drawings, Watercolours, Books and Prints of the 19th and 20th Centuries, Sotheby & Co. (Canada) Ltd., November 2, 1971, lot 172, reproduced front cover
Heffel Gallery Limited, Vancouver, 2003
Private Collection, Connecticut
Marius Barbeau, Cornelius Krieghoff, Pioneer Painter of North America, 1934, page 141
Dennis Reid, Krieghoff: Images of Canada, Art Gallery of Ontario, 1999, page 233
Sunset in the Woods is an exceptional tableau scene by Cornelius Krieghoff of Indigenous hunters traveling through a stunning Quebec landscape. The tableau approach was developed by Krieghoff during the time he lived in Quebec City, from 1853 to 1863, in which he depicted his subjects embedded in the landscape, often - as seen here - with views to vistas beyond their immediate surroundings. While living in Quebec City, Krieghoff had become acquainted with Mi’kmaq and Montagnais (Innu) people camped at Indian Cove on the Lévis River and Huron First Peoples at the village of Lorette, and he participated in hunting and fishing trips with Indigenous guides.
This scene of three Indigenous men traveling up a winter path on snowshoes shows Krieghoff’s well-informed knowledge of the trappings of the hunters - the lead figure has a rifle slung over his shoulder, the next totes a heavy pack, and the third hauls a laden toboggan. The artist was known for his fine attention to detail, and the men are dressed in clothing typical of the time, including toques and the Hudson's Bay white blanket coat. His depiction of them is naturalistic - they are observed just going about their normal activities. However, it is an idyllic scene, and Krieghoff clearly takes a romantic view of their lives; he does not show the hardships they would have experienced, such as adverse weather or conflicts. Instead, he admires the hunters’ vitality and ability to provide for their communities from the land. He viewed them as noble and untainted by the corruption of European civilization. As art historian Dennis Reid wrote, “Who can remain untouched by this affirmation of life and freedom in nature’s wilderness?”
The landscape displays Krieghoff’s fine European painting techniques and compositional skills. On either side of the winding snowy path he details small bushes, rocks, and fallen debris such as branches. Trees are meticulously rendered, from brushy evergreens to the bare branches of deciduous growth. However, the path is left relatively clear to showcase the men, and shadows deepen across it as the light fades. A gap through the trees reveals a beautiful softly glowing sunset in mauve and coral tones over the Laurentian Mountains. Krieghoff’s skies are glorious, and this one is full of delicate atmospheric effects, from clouds reflecting the sunset to the ones darkening in the last ethereal blue of the sky.
Late in 1863, Krieghoff returned to Europe and spent some years there, but he continued to paint Canadian subjects, noted by Reid as being primarily paintings of Indigenous people in the forest. Starting during the time Krieghoff lived in Quebec City, this seems to have been a composition much favoured by him, for he painted a number of similar scenes of Indigenous hunters traveling through the woods.
In his catalogue raisonné of Krieghoff’s work, Marius Barbeau commented on Sunset in the Woods: “One of the finest of this type; rich tone.” In 1971, when this work appeared in a Sotheby’s auction sale in Toronto, it was reproduced on the cover, being a sublime example of Krieghoff’s Indigenous tableaux.
Estimate: $70,000 - $90,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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