Big Snake, Chief of the Blackfoot Indians, Recounting his War Exploits to Five Subordinate Chiefs, c. 1851-1856
Irish, Canadian, 1810
oil on canvas
64 x 76.4 cm
Transfer from the Parliament of Canada, 1888
National Gallery of Canada (no. 22)
During his stay in London in 1843, Paul Kane saw George Catlin's Indian Gallery. Inspired by this display of works by the American artist, Kane returned to Toronto in 1845 determined to assemble a comprehensive visual record of the Native people of British North America. The following spring he embarked on a two-and-a-half year journey that took him from the Great Lakes to the Pacific. The countless sketches and drawings he executed during his trip, many of which he later worked up into paintings, constitute a huge corpus that is of inestimable historical and ethnological value. This painting was not taken from life: working in his studio, the artist adopted the "conversation piece" formula to evoke a gathering of the six chiefs, placing Big Snake in a position of authority at the centre. The precision of the painting's execution is evident in the meticulous detail with which the traditional garments and accessories - collected by the artist himself - have been portrayed.