TO all Quebecers there is a halo about the paintings of Krieghoff that time has never extinguished. It is true that the majority have outgrown his art, but our love for the scenes he painted with keen eye for the picturesque, in our Canadian landscape, and in the quaint and humorous side of the French Canadian peasant life have endeared his work to us and made his name famous as the Wilkie of French Canada. If, however, I were to ask the most ardent admirer of Krieghoff work what he knew of the artist, he would be compelled to answer “nothing beyond that he once lived in Quebec.” No biographical sketch has ever appeared. There are none of his letters extant so far as I am aware, and his contemporaries, with one or two exceptions, lave passed into the silent majority. John S. Budden, Esq., still hale, hearty and active at eighty-two, was not alone a liberal patron of the artist, but they dwelt together for the thirteen years that Krieghoff remained in Quebec. It is to Mr. Budden, therefore, that I am mainly indebted for my leading facts.
Cornelius Krieghoff was born in Dusseldorf, Saxony, about the end of the Napoleonic wars. The first years of his life were spent at Mainburg Castle, Schwienfurth, Bavaria. He was trained for a professional musician, and became an accomplished performer upon a number of instruments. He also studied painting and several of the natural sciences,. in which in latter years he became an adept. Upon completing his studies in Rotterdam he spent several years travelling through the various states of Europe, playing wherever he could get an engagement, or painting whenever he could find a purchaser, yet always pursuing his other studies in science or in modern languages.
His wanderings over Europe gave him a taste for travel. The New World offered advantages and opportunity, and to the New World Krieghoff sailed, landing at New York with little money, but with a brave heart. With his guitar under his arm he became an itinerant musician and trudged away into the South land. The new and strange botany fascinated him, and he made an extensive collection of specimens for one of the European Universities. About this period the Seminole War in the Everglades of Florida broke out, and Krieghoff, ever anxious to see and learn, joined the U. S. army of invasion, and was promptly made a sergeant. The campaign to him was one of severe labor, for in addition to his sergeant duties he determined to made an exhaustive series of sketches illustrating every phase of the war and its participants. From these drawings Krieghoff made a large number of paintings for the U. S. Govern-ment. Whether these paintings are yet in the archives of the U. S. Government I do not know. The sketches which became the property of John S. Budden, Esq., were all destroyed in the great Quebec fire of June, 1881.
At the end of the war Krieghoff left the army and again commenced a peripatetic career that finally landed him in Montreal, where he remained for two years. Here he married a French Canadian lady by whom he had issue one daughter.
This daughter married a Captain Burnett, of the 16th Regiment, a son of Sir Robt. Burnett, Bart., of London, England. Captain Burnett died after a very few years of married life. After-wards Mrs. Burnett wedded a Count de Wendt, of Russia.
At the instigation of Mr. John S. Budden, Krieghoff came to Quebec about 1853, and both took up their residence together in a most picturesque little cottage at Mount Pleasant, where the stately residence of John Ritchie, Esq., now stands. Stimulated and encouraged by the enthusiasm of Mr. Budden and also by the liberal purchases of his work by such men as the late James Gibb, Esq.,J. R. Young, Esq., C. R. O’Connor, Esq., D. D. Young, Esq., J. J. Foote, Esq., and others, also by many of the English officers stationed in Quebec, Krieghoff entered upon a most successful career. He was a rapid painter and a most industrious one. His output was considerable. As a rule his pictures were small, and were turned out as the labor of a day in the open. His few large and more important paintings were, however, the result of long and patient effort to bring them to the highest possible degree of finish, and some of them remained in his studio for years before he felt justified in turning them over to the purchasers. For the firm of Messrs. Thomas & Co., of Philadelphia, art dealers, he painted a number of large pictures, representative of Canadian life. Several of these were subsequently reproduced in lithographs. Much of his work was either reproduced in black and white or in color, and Krieghoff derived a considerable revenue from his copyrights. The best known of the colored lithographs are ” Pour l’amour du Bon Dieu”, and ” Va au Diable”, the two pictures of the old Canadian beggar.
The portrait of Krieghoff, which accompanies this article, is a pen and ink drawing by R. J. Wickenden, from a photo by Ellison & Co. of Quebec. This photo was taken when Krieghoff was about forty-five years of age, and is considered by Mr. Budden to have been the most life-like. The pen and ink by Mr. Wickenden is more than a faithful copy of the original photo.
During Krieghoff’s Quebec residence he was induced to visit France to study figure painting, in which he felt himself deficient in knowledge. He remained two years in Paris, copying at the Louvre before returning to Quebec. His subsequent work in general bears the unmistakeable mark of this period of study. He brought to Quebec, from Paris, many of his replicas of the masters, old and modern, and they quickly found their way into the collections of pictures in Quebec and Montreal. Again Krieghoff took up the thread of his work in depicting Canadian life and scenery. His paintings of our gorgeous autumnal colorings, became the delight of local collectors, who understood them, but in England, where many of them were sent, they were characterized as flagrant exaggerations. Time has settled this question, and in comparison with the work of more modern men, Krieghoff’s coloring seems tame.
While Krieghoff felt his deficiency as an artist of genre, yet he turned to this expression of art from the strong sense of humor that ever possessed him, and which is so evidenced in many of his paintings. He loved the woods and that border land of the early settler. He loved our rivers and lakes, and he loved our Canadian winters. Lake St. Charles, Lake Beauport, the Montmorenci, were his favorite resorts where he found material and drew inspiration for his brush. Quebec was always with him, for he dearly loved the old rock city and the life within it,
He is described as a most delightful social companion among his intimates, but presenting a shy and. retiring disposition to the world. His culture was broad and his tastes catholic. He was widely travelled, a scientist of no mean parts, and a very polyglot. I have already alluded to his accomplishments as a musician.
Krieghoff was tempted to leave Quebec about 1864 by his son-in-law, Count de Wendt, who had made his home in Chicago. The new life, however, was not to Krieghoff’s tastes, and shortly after his settling in his Western home he succumbed to valvular disease of the heart. He had half written a letter to his old friend in Quebec, John S. Bud den;, Esq., when the angel of death came to him.
Krieghoff will always hold an honored place in Canadian art, notwithstanding his deficiencies. He was the portrayer of a life that has all but passed away, and that will give him recognition.
Among the possessors of some of the more important of Krieghoff’s paintings in Quebec are Mrs. David Ross, Hon. John Sharples, Hon. Richard Turner, Lt. Col. Turnbull, W. M. McPherson, Lorenzo Evans, Mrs. R. R. Dobell, J. T. Ross, John Budden, John Breakey, D. McGie, Madame Roy, Mrs. Amos Bowen, Alfred Wheeler, Mrs. P. A. Shaw, and no doubt there are many others whose names I do not know.