“In this painting, I’m trying to convey the isolation of man in the vastness of the prairies, especially in winter when nature is particularly naked and merciless. Silhouetted on the horizon to the south, is the lone rock escarpment on which Stoney Mountain Penitentiary was built. The boy on skis has ventured into the snowfields in a kind of instinctive dare against Nature and is now equally determinedly heading back for the security of the farm buildings.”
Kurelek’s Wintertime North of Winnipeg, showing a solitary, determined skier fighting the elements in a seemingly endless and hostile desert of snow, seems like a quintessential depiction of Canadian winter. At the same time, the work seems to be a reference by the artist to his lifelong struggle with depression.
Kurelek created this large impressive work in 1962, about a decade after checking himself into a mental hospital in London, England. He lived and worked in Britain until 1959, before returning to Canada. We don’t know, if he has ever had the opportunity to see a strikingly similar painting by Swiss artist Cuno Amiet during his time in Europe. Amiet (1868 – 1961), a member of the Pont-Aven school and student of the renowned Ferdinand Hodler, painted his Schneelandschaft in 1904, also depicting a tiny skier in a monumental snowy mountain landscape. Today, Amiet’s work is on display at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, which acquired in 1999. Therefore, Kurelek could not have seen it there, but he might have viewed it in a private collection, or knew it from a publication.
Oil on canvas
178.5 x 236.2 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris