Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Shooting the Rapids, Arthur Heming, 1930
Orig. oil on canvas - Size - 52.5 x 70 cms
Found - Toronto, ON
A spectacular discovery, from the dispersal of a leading Ontario family estate, is this glorious masterwork that has probably not been seen outside the family mansion since it was acquired, probably directly from the artist, early in the 1930s.
Without a doubt, one of the most fabulous works of art ever painted to celebrate a great Canadian heritage moment, Shooting the Rapids by Arthur Heming, has ingrained itself in the historical imagination of countless millions of Canadians of all ages.
Right, the lithographic print, adapted from this original, and published in Canadian history books to inspire generations of school children with the wonder and romance of Canadian History.
In Edwin C. Guillet's monumental book, Early Life in Upper Canada, published in 1933, featuring over three hundred illustrations by Canada's finest artists, only a superlative sixteen were published in colour, including Shooting the Rapids, right, provided Courtesy of the Artist.
Sadly, in our copy, the Heming picture inspired an admirer, probably in the dreary 1930s, to cut this glorious plate from the book - probably for framing and display - the only case of pictorial theft in the entire 800 page book!
York boats were originally constructed by Scottish Orkneymen working for the Bay in Canada, using plans based on a boat they had used in the Ould Sod, which were themselves derived from the original Viking ships that once raided their coasts.
In1930, Walter Joseph Phillips, a contemporary of Heming and renowned today for his woodblock prints, came up with another superlative interpretation of a York boat on Lake Winnipeg right. It is wonderfully designed work of illustrative art, but just does not pack the emotional punch of the Arthur Heming original painted in the same year.
The York boat was ruggedly built to withstand the abuse it took in the Canadian wilderness; so it was extremely heavy. Still it was pulled across portages on wooden rollers. On the water, it was moved along by huge oars, aided by a square sail, when the wind blew the right way. A typical crew, a mixture of Indians, Métis, and Europeans, was eight men on oars and one on the tiller.
In the early 19th century it finally replaced the romantic voyageur canoe as the primary freighter in the Canadian wilderness. The canoe, though faster, was far more fragile, and carried far less freight than this plank built barge. The Governor of the Bay still travelled by the swifter canoe.
Right, another superlative oil on canvas, painted by Arthur Heming, the master extraordinaire of back-lighting. Anyone who has been in the bowels of a river canyon, late in the afternoon, knows that Arthur Heming had been there before him, and witnessed the spectacular play of sun on foam and spray. And captured the magic for the Ages on this canvas.
It too evokes another page from Canada's history, the era of the log drivers, who, for generations floated millions of logs down Canada's turbulent rivers.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, Canada's tall trees were used as masts and spars, on British war ships and merchantmen. Then, when sail gave way to steam, for the building trade, in an era when everything was made out of wood.
Heming features the high point of the action, at a location dreaded by lumberjacks, because many of their colleagues died there, crushed or drowned when the logs crunched together in a jam at a rapids or falls.
Heming has superbly captured this tragic story with his image of a ghostly lumberjack, in a death-defying ride many others failed to survive in the past, as the grave marker reminds us.
Even in recent memory it was possible to find such grave markers beside rapids in Ontario's wilderness where a broken lumberman was laid to rest by his friends.
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