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A Closer Look: Krieghoff edition

May 18th, 2018

Cornelius Krieghoffs painting of a wild crowd in front of a mid-19th Century bar in the early hours of the morning.

Cornelius Krieghoff. Breaking Up of a Country Ball in Canada, Early Morning, 1857. Oil on canvas, 60.9 x 91.3 cm. The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

In our blog series, A Closer Look, we explore some amazing works in the AGO Collection. Don’t miss our recent feature on a springtime Camille Pissarro painting. This edition, we’re turning our attention to the fantastic details of artist Cornelius Krieghoff (1815–1872).

Brawls, wild parties, sleigh rides – Krieghoff was known for his depictions of life in Quebec in the 1800s (then known as Lower Canada). A prolific artist, he’s estimated to have created up to 1,800 prints and paintings in his 42 years of artmaking.

What sets Krieghoff apart from his contemporaries are the wry details in his paintings. His work is like an 1800s version of Where’s Waldo? The AGO has over 150 Krieghoffs, and right now, 63 are on display in the galleries housing the Thomson Collection of Canadian Art on Level 2. It’s a lot to see, but if you take the time to look closely at these works, you’ll be rewarded by spotting some cheekier elements of his narrative scenes. Below we zoom in on a few.  

As you can see, Breaking Up of a Country Ball in Canada, Early Morning (1860) in Gallery 205 has a lot going on: canoodling couples, a sled accident and bleary-eyed revelers. And there are some details that we especially adore. We love the gent thumbing his nose in the centre of the painting.

A close up of a Conrnelius Krieghoff painting featuring a man making a mocking face.

Cornelius Krieghoff. Breaking Up of a Country Ball in Canada, Early Morning (detail), 1857. Oil on canvas, 60.9 x 91.3 cm. The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

If you look at the right side of the painting, you’ll spot a man bunking in a barn to get some peace and quiet from the ruffians.

A close up of a Conrnelius Krieghoff painting featuring a man waking up from a nap in a barn.

Cornelius Krieghoff. Breaking Up of a Country Ball in Canada, Early Morning (detail), 1857. Oil on canvas, 60.9 x 91.3 cm. The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Another Krieghoff favourite is Off the Road – The Upset Sleigh (1856) in Gallery 203. Looking at the details in this painting reveals a fantastic story.

Cornelius Krieghoffs painting of a horse sleigh overturned.

Cornelius Krieghoff. Off the Road – The Upset Sleigh, 1856. Oil on canvas, 33.8 x 54.5 cm. The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Check out the distraught pig with an upset expression.

A close up of a Conrnelius Krieghoff painting featuring an overturned sled with four men sprawled on the ground, one on top of a black and white pig.

Cornelius Krieghoff. Off the Road – The Upset Sleigh (detail), 1856. Oil on canvas, 33.8 x 54.5 cm. The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

But if you focus on the action in the middle of this painting you’ll miss a few important details – like these incriminating hoof prints.

A close up of a Conrnelius Krieghoff painting featuring a snow covered pathway with horse hoof prints.

Cornelius Krieghoff. Off the Road – The Upset Sleigh (detail), 1856. Oil on canvas, 33.8 x 54.5 cm. The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

And in the corner: an open door and an angry, shouting man!

A close up of a Conrnelius Krieghoff painting featuring a man angrily coming out of a wooden building.

Cornelius Krieghoff. Off the Road – The Upset Sleigh (detail), 1856. Oil on canvas, 33.8 x 54.5 cm. The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Upset Sleigh is the story of a rogue pig who dashed out from a barn, spooked a horse and caused a snowy crash. Perhaps the painting was Krieghoff’s suggestion to merrymakers in the 1800s to slow down for hazards on country roads, but we also like it as a gentle reminder to slow down in our galleries – otherwise you’ll miss all sorts of surprising details.

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