In February, the Agnes Etherington Art Centre announced the acquisition of six drawings by Charles Frederick Gibson to join their eclectic campus gallery.
The recent acquisitions of the Agnes include six important early drawings of Kingston by Gibson — a military man with a passion for art. Gibson was an ensign the British Army. He arrived in Canada in 1827 and was stationed in Upper and Lower Canada — contemporary Ontario and Quebec.
During his military career, Gibson actively drew and painted, using modest tools such as pencil, ink and watercolours. His works are observant of the country’s natural landscape: a wide land with swiftly flowing water and weather that seems to be in constant confusion.
Yet, Gibson’s subtle depiction of settler and military presence reveal changing townships in 19th century Canada.
Gibson’s art of Kingston was made between 1831 and 1833 when he was stationed here, though he also produced drawings of nearby cities such as Ottawa and Niagara Falls. His drawings of Kingston include notable places such as Fort Henry, the Royal Artillery encampment and the waterfront.
His The Royal Artillery Encampment, for example, depicts military tents on the east side of Point Henry overlooking Deadman Bay.
Gibson’s use of sepia and gray watercolour washes create a delicate and innocent atmosphere, in which the tents mark the only signals of living presence in an otherwise apparently empty land. The use of a delicate medium and subtle colours capture the quiet Canadian landscape that could’ve seduced viewers across the pond.
The presence of Gibson’s tranquil colonial gaze in his drawings only remind contemporary viewers how Canada was viewed by British colonizers and of course, the country’s picturesque panoramas only added to the allure.
Gibson’s drawings are technically excellent depictions of Canada, however, his background has greatly affected the subjectivity of his art. In viewing his works, we can have a greater understanding of life in 19th century Canada.
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