Art News

Early Maritime Oil Painting of Montreal for Auction at Bonhams

English merchantman IntegrityAn oil painting entitled ‘The three-masted English merchantman Integrity in two positions in the Saint Lawrence River arriving at Montreal’ will feature in the Old Master Paintings auction on 6th July at Bonhams, New Bond Street, London.

Any painting which incorporates a named merchant vessel in British North America and which can be dated prior to 1830 is deemed extremely rare. The fact that this work contains a named ship in the Saint Lawrence River in front of one of the earliest depictions of the city of Montreal makes this hitherto unknown painting of considerable historical significance.

Although there were a number of ships named Integrity recorded at the time, it is likely that this example is the 280-ton vessel built at Whitby in 1780. Although the painting is undated, it must undoubtedly pre-date 1801 since Integrity is clearly flying the ‘Red Ensign’ in use prior to the Act of Union with Ireland that year, but which was withdrawn and redesigned immediately afterwards so as to include the additional red cross of Saint Patrick.

Andrew Mackenzie, Director of Old Master Paintings, comments, “Early Canadian views are in themselves a rarity, but Montreal tended to be portrayed much less often than Quebec which was the primary city in the 18th century. To find such an early view of Montreal is very exciting indeed and it would represent a significant addition to any major collection.”

Montreal was initially little more than a mission station and its early years were hampered by continual attacks from the hostile native Iroquois people. By 1750, the population had reached 8,244 and even though the town still occupied a relatively small area, it proved a great magnet to British forces in the Seven Years’ War (1756-63), falling to General Amherst on 8 September 1760. Thereafter a British possession – apart from a brief American occupation between November 1775 and June 1776 – until Canada achieved Dominion status in 1867, Montreal now ranks amongst the great cities of North America.

Certainly in the 18th century, the two commodities, furs and timber, which made Canada such a vital asset to her European rulers – first France, and then England – provided the impetus for the so-called ‘Canada Trade’. With the Saint Lawrence River as the obvious natural gateway to the rich hinterland, Montreal’s importance began to grow and although the trading route was already in common use when Canada was under French rule, its rise to commercial prominence accelerated hugely once the Seven Years’ War came to an end. By 1760, in fact, the fur trade had expanded to such an extent that wooden docks lined the shore where before had been only muddy river banks.