Paul Kane - French River Rapids

French River Rapids by Paul Kane, 1849–1856 Oil on canvas; ROM 912.1.2; Gift of Sir Edmund Osler(Toronto, Ontario – August 13, 2013) The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) presents its newest rotation, an exhibit highlighting the art of Paul Kane, one of Canada’s most influential artists. The exhibit is displayed in the Daphne Cockwell Gallery of Canada: First Peoples from August 24, 2013 to March 16, 2014. The rotation is inspired by the symbiotic relationship between art history and archaeology.

The display brings together 32 artifacts on loan from Quetico Provincial Park and Archaeological Services Inc. along with Kane’s painting “French River Rapids”.  Additionally, the oil-on-canvas painting “Fishing by Torch Light” is shown in concert with Kane’s oil-on-paper field sketch of the same name. Comprising two sections, this exhibit focuses on two of Kane’s paintings.

 French River Rapids

The location of  one of Kane’s most iconic paintings, “French River Rapids”, was found nearly 830 kilometres from where it was originally thought to be located. As well, the original site that Kane painted—representing the eastern landing of the French Portage—had been abandoned in the 1870s due to the building of the Dawson Road between Fort William on Lake Superior and the Red River Settlement.  Recognizing the location as being undisturbed since the end of the 19th century, in 2008-2009, Kenneth Lister, ROM Assistant Curator of World Cultures and staff from Archaeological Services Inc. excavated the site in partnership with Quetico Provincial Park, a dig which yielded 32 artifacts linked to Kane’s depiction. This discovery was made possible by comparing the oil painting with Kane’s original oil-on-paper field sketch and relating the images to Kane’s field journal, published book (Wanderings of an Artist), and 19th century maps.

 With the discovery of the portage landing, it became apparent that the landing represented an undisturbed archaeological site presenting an ideal opportunity to excavate and substantiate Kane’s images,” says Kenneth Lister, ROM. “The direct relationship between the “French River Rapids” site and Kane’s images exemplifies the marriage between art history and archaeology.”

Fishing by Torchlight                                                                                                “Fishing by Torch Light” by Paul Kane, 1849 – 1856 Menominee, Fox River, Wisconsin Oil on canvas; 912.1.10; Gift of Sir Edmund Osler

The famous painting by Kane, “Fishing by Torch Light” depicts Native peoples using a fishing-with-light technique. The light seen in this painting is referred to as a jacklight and one like it has recently been added to the ROM’s ethnographic collection. The ROM has also recently acquired Kane’s oil-on-paper field sketch for this painting. The jacklight and the field sketch that inspired the oil painting will both be featured in the exhibition.

Other Information

As part of the display for this exhibition, Kane’s exhibit also includes images of the excavation site, site maps and Kane’s book Wanderings of an Artist (Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts, 1859). Ken Lister’s award-winning publication Paul Kane/The Artist/:Wilderness to Studio (The Royal Ontario Museum Press, 2010) is also available in the ROM Museum Store.