The Thinking 

The Paintings of Homer Watson

May 19, 2017


On the Grand River at Doon, 1880

KIDIST PAULOS ASRAT, a native of Ethiopia who lives in Canada, reflects upon an exhibit on the Canadian landscape artist Homer Watson. She considers the exhibit’s political agenda. She writes:

Homer Watson was born in 1855 in Doon, Ontario (now Kitchener). He started to paint as a young child encouraged by his father and his aunt. He never received any formal art training, but acquired his skill and artistic sense through various artist mentors he sought as he developed his talent.

Watson was called “the Canadian Constable,” and “the man who first saw Canada as Canada, rather than as dreamy blurred pastiches of European painting.” While he holds this noble acclamation, he has nonetheless been overshadowed by the more forceful Group of Seven artists.

The AGM’s exhibition showed us Watson’s southern Canadian landscapes, amidst its farms and homesteads, as civilized and vibrant, and as separate from America. He is the first nationalist Canadian painter, earlier even than the much touted Group of Seven painters.

But the exhibitors of Beyond the Pines had a subtle agenda, which was was to place Watson in the background of Canadian art as an artist who no longer represents contemporary Canada, and reflects only the past, colonial English heritage which they believe has little relevance in current Canadian art.

The much described regions of impenetrable wilderness and inhospitable glaciers is not the Canada that most Canadians know and live in, including Homer Watson and the Group of Seven. Their Canada of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was already a nation of defined European, and mostly British, communities with houses, gardens, farmland, and forests.

And that is the other narrative the AGM curators were presenting: the pre-colonial Canada of the aboriginal tribes. [cont.]

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