Wintertime North of Winnipeg

Wintertime North of Winnipeg
Circa 1962
Mixed media on board
102.9 x 143.5 cm
Signed and dated 1962 on the reverse
Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, Washington, D.C., 1966 Sold by the Order of the Trustees of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., to benefit its acquisition program
Kurelek’s Vision of Canada, The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, June 14 – August 14, 1983, no. 2 Literature Joan Murray, Kurelek’s Vision of Canada, The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, 1982, p. 21, reproduced Ramsay Cook and Avrom Isaacs, Kurelek Country: The Art of William Kurelek, Toronto, 1999, p. 45, reproduced in colour The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, Kurelek’s Vision of Canada, June 14 – August 14, 1983, no. 2

William Kurelek 

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. 

Cuno Amiet

Schneelandschaft, 1904

Oil on canvas

178.5 x 236.2 cm

Musée d’Orsay, Paris