A man cowers on a snow-covered plain with his left arm outstretched in a protective or pleading gesture. At the left, a hazy figure walks toward the edge of the frame, ignoring the prostrate man.

William Blair Bruce

(Hamilton, Ontario, 1859 – Stockholm, Sweden, 1906)

 

The Phantom Hunter

1888

Oil on canvas

151.1 x 192.1 cm

Bruce Memorial, 1914

Art Gallery of Hamilton, 14.26

Photo: Mike Lalic


The Phantom Hunter was inspired by the poem The Walker of the Snow (1867), by the Irish-born writer Charles Dawson Shanly (1811-1875). It depicts a fallen hunter begging for help from a ghostly figure indifferent to his plea. Shown at the 1888 Paris Salon, this work was pivotal in the career of William Blair Bruce in that it was the first major canvas he produced after a severe depression and the loss of hundreds of his paintings in an 1885 shipwreck. While the meaning of the picture remains enigmatic, some see it as a metaphor for the artist’s recovery and determinedly creative spirit.


The landscape and portrait painter William Blair Bruce was one of the first Canadian Impressionists. While living in Paris and Barbizon from 1881 to 1885, he developed an aesthetics of contrasting colours, drawing inspiration from everyday rural scenes and painting in the open air. However, Bruce pursued his career on two continents, as the themes of his work show. The Phantom Hunter is a Canadian winter genre scene whose subject appealed to the European taste for the exotic.

ART GALLERY OF HAMILTON

123 King Street West
Hamilton (Ontario), L8P 4S8
905 527-6610

artgalleryofhamilton.com »
Google Maps »

An excerpt from Charles Dawson Shanly’s (1811-1875) poeme, The Walker in the Snow (1867):

[...] Nor far into the valley
Had I dipped upon my way,
When a dusky figure joined me,
In a capuchon of gray,

Bending upon the snow-shoes,
With a long and limber stride; 
And I hailed the dusky stranger,
As we travelled side by side.          

But no token of communion
Gave he by word or look,       
And the fear-chill fell upon me           
At the crossing of the brook.   

For I saw by the sickly moonlight,              
As I followed, bending low,    
That the walking of the stranger          
Left no footmarks on the snow.          

Then the fear-chill gathered o’er me,  
Like a shroud around me cast,
As I sank upon the snow-drift 
Where the Shadow-hunter passed [...].    

William Blair Bruce

(Hamilton, Ontario, 1859 – Stockholm, Sweden, 1906)

 

The Phantom Hunter

1888

Oil on canvas

151.1 x 192.1 cm

Bruce Memorial, 1914

Art Gallery of Hamilton, 14.26

Photo: Mike Lalic