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Canadian Art  
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Very few scholars have devoted their attention to the subject of homosexuality in historical Canadian art, but scholarship on the contemporary period is somewhat fuller. The term "Canadian Art" embraces a conglomeration of heterogeneous styles and subject matters, reflecting the foundation of Canada by First Nations people, French and English colonizers, and numerous immigrant populations. The majority of art produced from the early seventeenth to the twentieth century relies heavily upon imported and/or traditional means of representation.

Since the rise of the homosexual emancipation movement three decades ago, a handful of Canadian artists have confronted issues of gay and lesbian sexuality in their work. In matters of law--often considered to hold substantial authority over the representation of desire--Canada is liberal in its conception of what is permissible between two consenting adults.

The promulgation of the federal omnibus bill C-150, which passed into law in August 1969, effectively decriminalized most homosexual relations between consenting adults in private. Currently, many provincial statutes protect against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; and, as a result of recent rulings by the Supreme Court of Canada, the rights of same-sex couples are also legally recognized.

Historical Canadian Art

The earliest artistic representations created by European settlers were either anthropological sketches, documenting existing populations and natural features of the land, as in cartography, or, especially in New France, religious art for the decoration of churches and related structures.

Until well into the nineteenth century, the two main patrons of the arts were the Church and the few wealthy and ruling families. Many artists, such as Cornelius Krieghoff (1815-1872), were itinerant, accepting commissions for portraits, but often relying upon the sale of scenic pictures for daily sustenance. The effect of sexual identity on the work of these early artists is almost impossible to assess.

It is not until the second half of the nineteenth century, with the founding of art leagues and schools and a National Gallery (1866), that a committed cultivation of the arts in Canada appeared.

An undeniably body of work to emerge from this period is by the sculptor Robert Tait McKenzie (1867-1938), a doctor and early defender of physical education. McKenzie's bronze statue The Sprinter (1902) reveals the sculptor's accurate observations of the athletic male form and his fine handling of his medium, even as it also recalls the ancient classical world's love and admiration for the physically robust male figure.

While artists such as McKenzie achieved refined works in the context of academic institutions located principally in North America, artists such as James Wilson Morrice (1865-1924) sought an artistic training based on worldly experience and travel. From 1890 until the beginning of the Great War, Morrice trained and worked in Paris.

While details regarding his sexuality remain sketchy, it may be significant that he was acquainted with such homosexual or bisexual figures as Oscar Wilde, Aubrey Beardsley, and Roger Fry. He maintained close friendships with Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1854-1928) and Charles Condor (1868-1909).

In the majority of his panel paintings, executed in a Post-Impressionist and Symbolist style, Morrice tends to distance himself from the various outdoor genre scenes he executes and he imbues his figures with a certain anonymity and melancholia. This sense of separation and detachment may be interpreted as a means of concealing certain sentiments from public knowledge, even as it also raises questions about why the artist is so detached and melancholy.

Morrice's delicately executed pictures contrast sharply with the monumental works of Florence Wyle (1881-1968) and Frances Loring (1887-1968). The two women met in 1905 at the Art Institute of Chicago. They later shared a studio in New York from 1909 to 1912. In the following year they reunited and settled in Toronto, living and working together for the next fifty-five years.

Honoring women workers of World War I in an unsentimental way, Loring's Girls with a Rail (1919) has been interpreted as an attack on conventional models of femininity. This particular sculpture may be contrasted with Wyle's delicate Study of a Girl (1931). Whereas Loring's statue represents women as unidealized, with pronounced musculature, Wyle's study of a nude female depicts femininity more traditionally.

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Top: A painting of the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy by Canadian-born artist Maurice Prendergast.
Above: A photograph of Robert Tait McKenzie's Ideal Scout by Bruce Andersen. The sculpture is installed at Twenty-Second and Winter Streets in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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