John A. Fraser
(London, England, 1838 – New York 1898)
John Karst (engraver)
(Bingem, Germany, 1836 – New York 1922)
Watching for Deer
George Monro Grant and Lucius R. O’Brien, Picturesque Canada: the country as it was and is, Toronto, Belden Bros., Vol. 2, 1884, p. 639
Special collections, Bibliothèque des arts de l’UQAM
Drawn by John A. Fraser and engraved by John Karst, Watching for Deer illustrates one of the chapters of the ambitious book Picturesque Canada: the country as it was and is. The scene is a romantic vision of Ontario nature, embellished with imagery that Fraser favoured. It shows a canoe drawn up on a stony shore. Adding to the picturesque effect, a man leans idly on a paddle, gazing at the horizon, while his companion smokes a pipe near a fire. The reproduction of this print in a book like Picturesque Canada helped to promote the tourist industry and consolidate a national image of Canada through its landscape.
The quasi-photographic realism of John A. Fraser’s works probably stemmed from his experience as a colourist for the photographer William Notman. The artist’s fiery, ambitious temperament cost him more than a few friends in the Canadian art world. His already contentious relationship with Lucius R. O’Brien further soured when O’Brien, as art director of Picturesque Canada, chose mostly American artists for the book, slighting his Canadian peers. Fraser, whose sketches O’Brien rejected (with the exception of Watching for Deer) left Toronto for the Canadian West the following year and later moved to the United States.
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Initially issued in installments, Picturesque Canada: the country as it was and is was first published in two volumes in 1882. Its 880 pages include texts by George Monro Grant on the different regions of Canada and more than 500 woodcut illustrations. Among the Canadian artists who contributed to the massive undertaking are John A. Fraser, Robert Harris and Lucius R. O’Brien. Also included is a work by the Marquess of Lorne (1845-1914), then Governor General of Canada. Surprisingly, there is nothing by the Marquess’s wife Princess Louise (1848-1939), even though her art was better known. Books of this sort were popular in the second half of the 19th century, as seen with Picturesque America (1872-1874), Picturesque Europe (about 1875) and Picturesque Atlas of Australia (1886-1888).