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Great Canadian Art & Artists

Frederick Arthur Verner - 1836-1928

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure An Ojibway camp, masterfully captured forever by Frederick Verner, somewhere in the Lake of the Woods region of far western northern Ontario, at a time when Canada's First Peoples were still living in a traditional way.

Frederick has given us a good view of a typical tipi used by the Woodland Indians for thousands of years - basically a simple tripod with extra poles, and draped with large pieces of birch bark. It was wide open at the top to let smoke out. A blanket door, held in place with another pole, also could be opened up to allow more light in. What is astonishing is the small size of the tipis.

We assume Frederick got the proportions accurately. His painting makes two powerful general statements that apply equally to almost all of Canada's First Nations at the end of the 19th century. First, in marked contrast to the lifestyle of Canadians today, Verner illustrates that the Ojibway were entirely "outdoor people" only retiring to the interior of their small bark tents for a crowded night's sleep.


Ojibway Family Gathering, FA Verner 1878
Orig. wc - Size - 10" x 14"
Found - Toronto, ON
Secondly, they were enormously social people, spending almost all their time in constant contact with other members of the tribe, quite different from today, when the modern nuclear family prefers to both, spend lots of time indoors, as well as being separate from other groupings, except on special occasions.
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Indian Portrait, FA Verner, c 1895
Orig. pencil sketch - Size - 31 x 41 cm
Found - Pottageville, ON
A marvellous example of the talent that Fred used to bring the inner spirit of people alive with pencil and paper.
Frederick Verner is one of the few leading Canadian painters of the 19th century who was actually born in Canada, at Sheridan, Halton County, Upper Canada in 1836. He grew up in Sandwich (Windsor) views of which are among the earliest scenes he painted.

Verner went to England to study art briefly in 1856. He also served five years in the British military before returning to Canada in 1862.

Like his contemporary, William Armstrong, Frederick was an avid photographer, using the camera to earn a living, as well as to gather images and painting motifs, which he used repeatedly in his works throughout his career.

Frederick was entranced with the art of Paul Kane - who specialized in western and Indian themes. He befriended Kane, who was living in retirement in Toronto, and who encouraged the direction of his work. Like his mentor, Frederick specialized in painting tranquil scenes of people in harmony with nature with special focus on western, Indian and buffalo themes.

In 1862 Verner first became acquainted with Ojibway people. Between 1870 and 1892 - at a time the Canadian west was still wild - Frederick went on several painting expeditions there.




His most important trip was in the summer and fall of 1873, when he visited the Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake area of Ontario, west of Lake Superior.
In 1872 he became a founding member of the Ontario Society of Artists.

In 1874 he exhibited his work featuring Ojibway Indians at the Ontario Society of Artists exhibition. Thereafter he exhibited paintings of his restful scenic views of Canada.

In 1880 he moved to England where his exotic Canadian wild west scenes were in great demand. He lived there the rest of his life, but returned to Canada to find new inspiration for his wilderness paintings.

Verner is mostly famous today for his outstanding paintings of buffalo and Indian people. These exotic themes were favourites with buyers in eastern Canada and Europe.

He died in England, in 1928, where he had lived for most of his life.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

A masterful symphony of light and atmosphere catching the sunset over a dock scene of the town where Frederick grew up.

A squat paddle wheeler with widely-spaced twin chimneys, perhaps bringing freight and passengers from Toronto, on the run to Lake Superior, has tied up for the night.

A trio of dockworkers are discussing the day's events, while another is rolling a barrel towards a pile of goods waiting for another steamer to take aboard. A lonely barrel floats by, reminding us that the lakes and rivers of Canada were the nation's first garbage dump.


Waterfront, Sandwich (Windsor), FA Verner 1899
Orig. wc - Size - 9" x 13"
Found - Toronto, ON
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

What a lotta Bull! Honestly, now, did Fred Verner ever do a better buffalo picture? We haven't seen it... This one has it all: foreground, middle ground, background - the species, the herd, the habitat - a massive, virile bull in a commanding stance, snorting at the front; others bellowing just behind; and the herd fanning out beyond as buzzards circle overhead.

Every part of this frame displays the talent of a commanding artist. Whether buffalo or bison, you will never see a finer bull than we give you here...

Trouble is Fred, whose name is synonymous with his buffalo pictures, didn't do it...

A contemporary of his, Fanny Colwill Calvert, from Guelph, Ontario did.

Go to Fanny Calvert

Guarding the Herd - Fanny Colwill Calvert c 1905
Orig. charcoal sketch - Size - 23 x 35.5 cm
Found - Toronto, ON
More Great Canadian Treasures by Frederick Arthur Verner
The Indian Portage 1902 Canoes in the Mist
An Ojibway Camp Ojibway Shooting the Rapids
Hudson's Bay Officials on Rainy Lake Indian Encampment (detail)
The Lonely Buffalo 1873 The Evening Watch
Bison 1910 Buffalo by a Lake 1904
An Ontario Farm 1902 November Morning 1898
Storehouses at Sandwich 1908 Sheep & Woodlands 1900
Larkspur Burnham Beeches 1902
Frederick Verner showed that he could point the traditional livestock scenes with the best of them, as well as flowers and trees.
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