Canadian (born in Ireland), 1810–1871
Portrait of Michael Peter Empey, c. 1840
oil on paper on board
20.1 x 18.4 cm
Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery; Gift in memory of John A. Russell by his family
In Upper Canada in the 1830s, a good portraitist could make a decent living from commissions. While the Toronto-based Paul Kane had little formal training, this small but careful portrait of Peter Empey, a friend of the artist, demonstrates Kane’s early efforts to distinguish himself as a professional artist. This early work was executed just before Kane launched himself on a self-guided tour of major European art centres. While in London, England, he met the famous American ethnographic painter George Catlin. Catlin would prove to be a major influence on the young artist’s later work, as seen in the sketches and studio paintings Kane produced upon his return to North America, which documented his mid-nineteenth-century voyages through the North American Northwest, and his contact with First Nations people.