This work shows three canoes gliding across a lake toward the horizon in a diagonal that stretches from the left foreground to the right background. Shrouded in a haze of mist, the farthest two canoes cast indistinct shadows.

Frances Anne Hopkins

(London, England, 1836 – London, England, 1919)

 

Canoes in a Fog, Lake Superior

1869

Oil on canvas

68.6 x 121.9 cm

Purchased in 1955

Glenbow Museum, 55.8.1

Photo: Glenbow Museum


Canoes in a Fog, Lake Superior is the work of a female artist, a rarity at the time. Frances Anne Hopkins has depicted herself from the back, in the nearest canoe, making sketches for a painting. Reduced to a large diagonal formed by the paddled craft, the composition differs from those of the grand sublime landscapes of the day. The thick fog into which the canoes are heading accentuates the Romantic spirit of the scene. In the late 19th century, merchants in the new country began abandoning the canoe in favour of more modern, less expensive means of transport, like the railroad.


Little is known about the artistic training of Frances Anne Hopkins, née Beechey, who was born into an upper-middle-class English family that included professional artists. After arriving in Lower Canada, in 1858, Hopkins sometimes accompanied her husband on the canoe trips he made as the agent in charge of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s fur trade, based in Montréal. These expeditions became her favourite subject matter. Like the crossing in Canoes in a Fog, Lake Superior, the year 1869 signaled transition, since Edward Martin Hopkins (1820-1893) took his retirement then and the couple sailed back to England the following year.

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