Portrait of a Lady, 1859
oil on canvas
76 x 63.3 cm
Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery; Gift of Mr. Peter Dobush
Abandoning an earlier goal to pursue law, William Sawyer embarked on his artistic career in Montreal in the 1840s. Initially painting landscapes and genre scenes, reminiscent of his peer, Cornelius Krieghoff, Sawyer soon turned his attention to portraiture. He focused on securing commissions from the urban professional and merchant classes living along the St. Lawrence River and the north shore of Lake Ontario, in cities from Montreal to Toronto. Photography, still a novelty at the time, was used by many painters of this period as an important component of their production. In addition to being a tool for documenting a physical likeness, working from a photograph also ensured that the subject was not constrained by a lengthy sitting. Sawyer’s debt to photography can also be seen in the shallow space, static quality, and coaxed elimination of brushwork evident in Portrait of a Lady.