National Soul

National Soul: Canadian Mural Painting, 1860s - 1930s

Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    National Soul
    Book Description:

    Examining their social, political, and economic contexts, McKay shows how the murals of this period glorified Canada as a modern nation state, extolled the virtues of commerce and industry, inculcated conventions of gender and race, and shared the intensity of nationalistic sentiment that led to the work of the more renowned painters of Toronto's Group of Seven. Bringing together for the first time a body of Canadian work - civic, commercial, religious, and private - that has been largely ignored by art historians, A National Soul challenges previous histories of Canadian painting.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6978-2
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-2)
  6. INTRODUCTION Mural Painting in Canada, 1860s to 1930s: A New Paradigm for Kitsch
    (pp. 3-14)

    From the 1860s to the 1930s, professional artists painted murals for CIVIC, commercial, religious, and private buildings across Canada. Some of these murals represented local landscapes, historical events, and contemporary activities; others illustrated Western literature, mythology, and Christian dogma. All were painted in realistic conservative styles. The subject matter of any one of these mural paintings, as might be expected, was linked to the function of the site it decorated. In the early 188os Napoléon Bourassa decorated Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes in Montreal, a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, with scenes of her Immaculate Conception (fig. 26). In 1896 Mary Hiester Reid...

  7. CHAPTER ONE The European-Based Mural Movement: History and Ideology
    (pp. 15-23)

    On a superficial level, mural painting distinguishes itself from easel painting by its permanent attachment to the wall of an architectural structure and, often, by its relatively larger size. Of more significance is the fact that its subject matter is related to the function of the architecture to which it is attached. Mural painting intensifies the viewers’ experience as they “read” a particular architectural site. All art reflects and constructs the social values of the culture in which it is produced, and mural painting clearly has the capacity to do so in an emphatic manner.

    This special feature of mural...

  8. CHAPTER TWO Civic Mural Paintings: “Glorifying the Memories of a Nation”
    (pp. 24-59)

    As modern Western nation-states developed from the early nineteenth century, their dominant populations — composed of enfranchised, middle-class, Christian men - worked to safeguard their own values and to offer them to others, primarily by, charging the state with the responsibility for particular services. Some of these services, such as justice and taxation, had traditionally belonged to government. However, with the unprecedented increase in population that took place after the early nineteenth century, the modern nation-state required larger buildings to house these services. Other services, such as health and education, were new and required specific architectural forms. Consequently, from the early...

  9. CHAPTER THREE Commercial Mural Paintings: “The Glorification of Man’s Handiwork”
    (pp. 60-77)

    The material progress of capitalism — which has been a dominant feature of modern nation-states from their inception in the early nineteenth century — created a need for new types of buildings in which services and products could be promoted and sold on a broad scale. These new commercial buildings, like the new civic buildings, required “signs” that clarified their functions and encouraged a positive reaction. Until the 1920s or 1930s (the date varied from country to country), the use of earlier architectural styles for new civic and commercial buildings provided one type of sign. For example, a Roman temple plan -...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR Protestant Church Mural Paintings: “Bringing Back the Soul of the Town”
    (pp. 78-93)

    In the first half of the nineteenth century Christians began to revive medieval and Renaissance styles of church architecture and interior decoration - including lavish mural painting — as a means of recreating the intensely spiritual environments they believed had belonged to these earlier churches. These environments, Christians argued, would counteract the attacks that various aspects of modern life were making on Christian authority. Scientific discoveries were refuting the claims of the Bible. The technology of material progress was providing people with physical comforts that led them to rely less on the spiritual comforts of religion. The squalor and disease of...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Catholic Church Mural Paintings: “Reflections of Our Community’s Soul”
    (pp. 94-108)

    In the 1830s, after approximately one hundred years of relatively stark neoclassical styles of ecclesiastical interior decoration, Catholic churches within Western culture began to commission mural paintings on a regular basis. Given the conservative nature of the Catholic Church, it is not surprising that they continued to do so until the 1950s. The new mural paintings were primarily designed, as all earlier Catholic mural paintings, to provide images that would teach doctrine and inspire devotion. These mural paintings also functioned, like those in Protestant churches, to extol Christianity as a prominent feature of the modern nation-state in which the mural...

  12. CHAPTER SIX Mural Paintings in Private Sites: “Wealth Transfigured into Crowns of Glory”
    (pp. 109-133)

    Until the early nineteenth century, mural paintings for private residences were commissioned only by aristocrats. Most, if not all, of these mural paintings represented light-hearted activities of Greco-Roman deities. Some aristocrats may have found satisfaction in the link this subject matter forged between themselves and a type of divinity. All of them would have welcomed the relationship this subject matter constructed between them and ancient Greece and Rome as important and powerful bases of Western culture. And all of them would have understood that this subject matter belonged exclusively to them in a sense, since their education, provided by their...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN The “Disappearing” Native in English Canadian Mural Paintings: “But He Is Gone and I Am Here”
    (pp. 134-156)

    From the 186os to the 1950s, English Canadian written accounts of Canadian history regularly claimed that Native Canadians had been materially unprogressive: they were either uninterested in material progress or incapable of taking part in it. Canadians of Anglo-Saxon ancestry, in contrast, had multiplied and prospered because they participated in material progress. Between the late 1890s to the late 1930s many English Canadian artists painted murals for civic, commercial, and private sites that supported these claims.

    These mural paintings employed two basic types of images. In the first, both Native Canadians and Canadians of European ancestry (French and British) are...

  14. CHAPTER EIGHT Progress, Patriarchy, and Public Library Murals: “Whilst a Sweet-Faced Woman Finds the Books”
    (pp. 157-172)

    Modern Western nation-states began to take responsibility for public library services in the 1840s. Basically these services acted as a type of public education by providing reading material of both a practical and a literary nature. At the same time, public libraries worked until well into the twentieth century in a variety of ways — including the installation of mural paintings — to uphold the salient features of the modern nation-state. These characteristics, as we know, may be summarized as popular sovereignty, the material progress of capitalism, distinct identity, Christianity, and patriarchy.

    Canadian public libraries, which opened around 1885, functioned just as...

  15. CHAPTER NINE Opalescent Glass Murals in Toronto Kindergartens: “A High Import Latent Even in Pat-a-Cake”
    (pp. 173-192)

    Between 1913 and 1919 the Toronto Board of Education commissioned figural glass panels for at least thirty-four of its kindergarten classrooms — for classrooms in which the youngest pupils, the five year olds, were educated (fig. 55).¹ The medium of these panels may initially suggest that they were stained-glass windows and do not fit the parameters of mural painting. However, the glass panels did not function as windows, for they were installed on interior walls. They were not made of stained glass, but of opalescent glass, a medium that contemporary artists described as a type of mural painting because its layered...

  16. CHAPTER TEN Canadian Mural Painting, 1940s and 1950s: The European-Based Mural Movement Lingers On
    (pp. 193-206)

    From approximately the 1830s to the 1930s, the hegemonic population of modern Western nation-states - enfranchised, middle-class, Christian men - supported the production of thousands of mural paintings that were generally designed to glorify the contemporary features of modern Western nation-states: popular sovereignty, the material progress of capitalism, distinct cultural identity (often expressed through racial and cultural imperialism), Christianity, and patriarchy. The individuals who promoted this type of artistic production believed that it could evoke nationalistic sentiment in viewers and persuade them to support the nation-state. Without such sentiment, mural patrons feared, they and their nations could not “flourish.” This...

  17. APPENDIX Canadian Murals Discussed in A National Soul
    (pp. 207-224)
  18. NOTES
    (pp. 225-260)
    (pp. 261-291)
  20. Index
    (pp. 292-304)