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Artists as Writers: Kane, Paul

Artist Biography


(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

KANE, Paul (1810 - 1871)

Areas of Expertise

Painting, landscapes, portraiture

Biography

Paul Kane (1810-1871) was an Irish-born, and largely self-taught, artist who resolved early to make a lasting record of North American [Indigenous peoples] and their traditional way of life. The central event of his career was a journey of two-and-half years through the wilderness, from the Great Lakes, through the Red River settlement (where he saw and painted one of the last great buffalo hunts), the Rockies, and into the Pacific Northwest.

But to gain the cooperation of the Hudson's Bay Company, which essentially governed what is now Canada west of the Great Lakes, he had to first establish himself as a fit traveller. That meant Kane had to show Hudson's Bay governor George Simpson that he could keep up with the company voyageurs on the first legs of the fur route into the northwest. Kane did better than pass the test -- he not only gained the protection of the company, but by the end of his adventures was leading one of its daunting winter expeditions.

All along Kane's great trip he made sketches and watercolours whenever he could: landscapes, pictures of forts and towns, and most importantly, portraits of the natives he met -- portraits that gained him a reputation as a medicine man. Most of his later career was to consist of working up striking paintings based on those field sketches and on the native artifacts he gathered on the trip. In this later work Kane was unable to resist bending the images he had captured on his travels to fit the classical tastes of the time, but his field work had unusual freshness and accuracy.

Kane also kept a journal of his travels, and later wrote them up (with some help and embellishment) as Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America...a classic of Canadian travel writing (and a best-seller in its time). In both the sketches and journal, Kane fulfilled his goal of making an important historical and anthropological record of ways of life that were already starting to disappear.

The originals of Kane’s paintings are in Ottawa (National Gallery of Canada Collection), Toronto (Royal Ontario Museum), and Orange, Texas (Stark Museum), but his collection of Indian artifacts is in the Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg. 

© Above biography by T.S. Causabon via University of Manitoba CM Magazine website and Manitoba Historical Society

Online Resources

Paul Kane: Life & Work by Arlene Gehmacher, a comprehensive book from the Art Canada Institute that is free to read online.

Paul Kane Biography from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

Paul Kane on the Canadian Encyclopedia.

Writing by Paul Kane

Please note that not all works are available through the OCADU library. To acquire one of these works through Interlibrary Loan or other means, please contact the library for assistance.

Paul Kane: Writing about his own art

Paul Kane's Frontier, Including Wanderings of an Artist Among the Indians of North America. Ed. J. Russell Harper. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971. Available at OCADU Library.
A catalogue raisonné with biographical introduction edited by J. Russell Harper with reprint of Kane's Wanderings of an Artist, 1859. It includes appendix of excerpts from Kane's logbooks, letters & notes for painting.

Paul Kane: Travel writing and journals

The Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America from Canada to Vancouver's Island and Oregon through the Hudson's Bay Company's Territory and Back Again. London, England: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans & Roberts, 1859. Read scanned version online from Internet Archive. Available at OCADU Library.
This book is illustrated with lithographs of Kane's own sketches & paintings.

Paul Kane's Frontier, Including Wanderings of an Artist Among the Indians of North America. Ed. J. Russell Harper. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971. Available at OCADU Library.
A catalogue raisonné with biographical introduction edited by J. Russell Harper with reprint of Kane's Wanderings of an Artist, 1859. It includes appendix of excerpts from Kane's logbooks, letters & notes for painting.

Paul Kane, the Columbia Wanderer, 1846-7; Sketches and Paintings of the Indians and His Lecture, "The Chinooks." ed. with introd. by Thomas Vaughan. Portland: Oregon Historical Society, 1971.
It is unclear if the text of Kane's lecture "The Chinooks" is same as his article in the Daily Colonist "The Chinook Indians" from 1855

"Journal of Paul Kane's Western Travels, 1846-1848." Transcribed by I. S. MacLaren. American Art Journal 21.2 (1989): 23-62. Available at OCADU Library.

Paul Kane: Writing about Canadian landscape and Indigenous peoples

"Incidents of Travel on the North-West Coast, Vancouver’s Island, Oregon, etc. The Chinook Indians." Canadian Journal III (1854-55): 273-79.

"The Chinook Indians." Daily Colonist (Toronto), 6-9 Aug 1855.

“Notes of a Sojourn Among the Half-Breeds, Hudson’s Bay Company’s Territory, Red River." Canadian Journal of Industry, Science and Art (new series) vol. 1 no. 2 (Mar 1856): 128-38.

“Notes of Travel Among the Walla-Walla Indians." Canadian Journal of Industry, Science and Art (new series) vol. 1 no. 5 (Sep 1856): 417-24.

"The Chinook Indians." Canadian Journal of Industry, Science and Art (new series) vol. 2, no. 7 (Jan 1857): 11-30.

The Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America from Canada to Vancouver's Island and Oregon through the Hudson's Bay Company's Territory and Back Again. London, England: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans & Roberts, 1859. Read scanned version online from Internet Archive. Available at OCADU Library.
This book is illustrated with lithographs of Kane's own sketches & paintings.

Paul Kane's Frontier, Including Wanderings of an Artist Among the Indians of North America. Ed. J. Russell Harper. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971. Available at OCADU Library.
A catalogue raisonné with biographical introduction edited by J. Russell Harper with reprint of Kane's Wanderings of an Artist, 1859. It includes appendix of excerpts from Kane's logbooks, letters & notes for painting.

Paul Kane, the Columbia Wanderer, 1846-7; Sketches and Paintings of the Indians and His Lecture, "The Chinooks." ed. with introd. by Thomas Vaughan. Portland: Oregon Historical Society, 1971.
It is unclear if the text of Kane's lecture "The Chinooks" is same as his article in the Daily Colonist "The Chinook Indians" from 1855

"Journal of Paul Kane's Western Travels, 1846-1848." Transcribed by I. S. MacLaren. American Art Journal 21.2 (1989): 23-62.
Available at OCADU Library.