Lucius R. O’Brien
(Shanty Bay, Ontario, 1832 – Toronto 1899)
Sunrise on the Saguenay, Cape Trinity
Oil on canvas
90 x 127 cm
Royal Canadian Academy of Arts diploma work, deposited by the artist, Toronto, 1880
National Gallery of Canada, 113
Photo: National Gallery of Canada
Sunrise on the Saguenay, Cape Trinity was Lucius R. O’Brien’s diploma work for the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, and it set the tone for the artists’ organization founded in 1880, of which he was the first president. The work’s framing reveals the scale of the sublime landscape. The rocky mass of the Canadian Shield rising at left to the upper edge and the mountains stretching as far as the eye can see in a haze of atmospheric perspective represent exactly the type of work the Academy sought to promote in a newly confederated Canada in search of its identity.
Lucius R. O’Brien was actively engaged in some of the artists’ groups, such as the Ontario Society of Artists, that sprang up in late 19th-century Canada. He roamed the country with other painters of his generation following the westward extension of the Canadian Pacific Railway, which hired him to produce promotional pictures. During his travels, O’Brien strived to portray the new Canada through its picturesque and grandiose landscapes. This quest for a national imagery led to his appointment as art editor of the ambitious book project Picturesque Canada: the country as it was and is, published in 1882.
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This lithograph represents the opening of the first official exhibition of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, declared by John Campbell, Marquess of Lorne and 9th Duke of Argyll (1845-1914), who served as the fourth Governor General of Canada from 1878 to 1883. Sunrise on the Saguenay, Cape Trinity, by Lucius O’Brien hangs immediately above the throne in front of which the Governor General is standing. This position of honour indicates how important the new institution considered the landscape to be.