William Armstrong - 1822-1914 - 1
|Great Canadian Heritage Treasure||
The fabulous paintings of Indian Chiefs Mawgekizick and Wabojung, are exposed to the public here for the first time, having, for decades, been part of the private estate of a professor.
They were painted when William Armstrong accompanied the Treaty Party to northern Ontario in 1898. They rank in importance and rarity to the Indian chief paintings of George Catlin, and Paul Kane, in that these 19th century Canadian chiefs were painted, from life, by a major artist in their wilderness habitat.
William Armstrong was born in Ireland, in 1822, and went to England as a teenager to apprentice into engineering. He became a draughtsman and engineer, employed by railways all over England. He developed his drawing habit into a passion for painting.
In 1851, at the age of 29, he took his wife and family to Canada. He soon worked for the leading railway developers there, helping Casimir Gzowski build the Grand Trunk Railway to Sarnia. His work took him to remote areas north of the Great Lakes. He found lots of exotic subject matter to interest him in his adopted land; ships, canals, boats, Indians.
Armstrong was an early Canadian pioneer in photography and spent as much time taking photos and exhibiting them, as he did painting and entering his art in shows. He was a railway engineer with a passion for painting the march of industry in Victorian Ontario (landscapes with trains, ships, bridges) but who kept a special place, in his heart and palette, for the noble red man who was being slowly shunted aside
Armstrong took an active role in the young community of York, and helped found the Royal Canadian Yacht Club. He excelled at painting racing boats and marine views because of his passion for yachting.
He also painted many Indian chiefs, selling the 8 x 10 portraits - the same size as these two are - as souvenirs for British army officers returning to England.
|Maw-ge-ki-zick (Flying Sky) - William Armstrong 1898|
|Orig. watercolour - Size - 8.25" x 11.25"
Found - London, ON
Named Mawgekizick, Flying Sky, & signed with monogram, dated 98
In 1860 Armstrong famously painted the arrival of the Prince of Wales in Toronto left. The Prince bought the first painting that William produced of this scene, an enormous coup for the artist, which brought him growing recognition, and more sales.
In 1870 Armstrong joined Lord Wolseley's Red River Expedition, sent to put down the Riel Rebellion at Fort Garry (today's Winnipeg.) He was made Chief Engineer, and was recruited to seek out the best route for the army to negotiate the wilderness trails, rivers, and lakes, north of Lake Superior.
His drawings of the army on the march, which were published in the Canadian Illustrated War News, made him famous, and he was invited to join the Royal Canadian Academy as an Associate.
In his art, William Armstrong chose to celebrate the expansion of Victorian Canada to the west. He confined his painting to the first love of the engineer: the bridges, boats, railway stations, trains, waterworks, and always the Indians as they were when white civilization started to change their way of life.