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Art and Place: Historic Places Depicted in Art at the National Gallery of Canada

What better way to appreciate Canada's historic places than through art? Canada's scenery has attracted local and international artists alike, inspiring many well-known Canadian artworks. Because protected historic places are often located in a natural environment, many landscape paintings were created at these special sites. Available online or viewed at the gallery, the National Gallery of Canada's (NGC) collections are held to further knowledge, understanding, and enjoyment of art for all Canadians. The NGC holds many works of art based on historic places listed on the Canadian Register.

Tomb-of-General-BrockEffectively captured by Thomas Cole in his painting "Tomb of General Brock"(1), Brock's Monument dominates the view of Queenston Heights. As an artist that primarily focused on realism, naturalism, and Romanticism, the natural setting of Brock's Monument provided an ideal picturesque landscape for Cole. Brock's Monument is composed of a 16-foot statue of Major General Sir Isaac Brock on top of a classically fluted column. Often considered a military hero of Upper Canada because of his gallantry in the Battle of Queenston Heights during the War of 1812, Brock's commemorative monument features detailed victorious symbols. Today, Brock's Monument can be visited in person at Niagara-on-the-Lake and the National Gallery of Canada.

Lord Dalhousie, a military leader who became Governor-General of Canada, was a supporter of the arts. He believed that pictorial records were an excellent way to document his Canadian campaigns. Because of this, many military artists under his command (including John Elliot Woolford) created artwork at Canada's historic places. For example, a number of Woolford's works feature Queenston Heights NHS, such as his watercolour titled "Queenstown Heights, and Niagara River, 1821." These pieces depict the site as it appeared in the early 1800s.

Palace GateThe beauty and cultural significance of Québec Citadel NHS has been depicted many times by artists. The 19th-century fortress located at Cap Diamant has been home of the Royal 22nd Regiment since 1920 and a second residence for the Governor-General of Canada since 1872. Artists, including John Crawford Young and James Pattison Cockburn, brought the Québec Citadel to Canadians through their art. Young's "Palace Gate, Québec" (a brown wash over graphite on wove paper) (2) and Cockburn's winter scene "The Citadel of Québec from the Ice" (watercolour over graphite on wove paper) are in the NGC's permanent collection and on display.

TownAndHarbourOfStJohnsThe East Coast's best-known historic place, Signal Hill NHS, is also depicted in the National Gallery. William Eagar's "The Town and Harbour of St. John's, taken from Signal Hill, June 1st, 1831" (3) (etching and aquatint with watercolour on wove paper) is a view of the historic city. Eagar's representation of St. John's has dramatically changed since 1831. Most illustrations of Signal Hill include the highly recognizable landmark 'Cabot Tower', but Eagar's etching highlights the site's landscape and dramatic vista.

Canada's historic places are often protected for their heritage. Yet, the places have a special meaning to artists, both historic and contemporary. The meaning of place is enriched with the artistic eye of the likes of Thomas Cole, James Pattison Cockburn or a support of the arts in colonial Canada - Lord Dalhousie. Why not make a trip to the NGC and see first-hand how these historic places have enriched and inspired Canadian artists for centuries.


Images of paintings from the National Gallery of Canada (http://gallery.ca/):

(1) "Tomb of General Brock, Queenston Heights, Ontario"
(2) "Palace Gate, Québec"
(3) "The Town and Harbour of St. John's, taken from Signal Hill, June 1st, 1831"