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Drawn to the West

JULY 1 – JANUARY 17, 2021 

This exhibition features the work of artists who ventured to the Canadian Rockies beginning in 1886 to the present day. The majority of works are chosen from the abundant selections at the Whyte Museum with some borrowed from private collections. We are most appreciative and grateful to all the lenders whose generous loans provide added enhancement.


Anchored within the exhibition are four paintings by Tom Thomson, borrowed from private collections in Canada, Scotland, and the United States. Thomson is believed to have visited Banff in 1913 with his friend Archie Belaney (Grey Owl) and these paintings are a result of that trip. A detailed story about the paintings and their exhibition will be described within the exhibition content and later text.


Artists have been drawn to western Canada for centuries. The vastness of the prairie and the magnitude of the mountain landscape has captivated and challenged many fledgling and experienced painters. The tonal limitations of the mountainous wilderness regions composed predominately of blue, brown, green, and grey, combined with swiftly changing weather patterns and unexpected wildlife tested the resolve, stamina, and skills of many.


The scale of the mountains and the vastness of the vistas were a challenge to fit into an 8” x 10” oil sketch. Indeed, in 1889 Bell-Smith leaned on the expertise of famed American sublime mountain painter Albert Bierstadt (1830 – 1902) for his compositional and climatic guidance. Later, when celebrated American painter John Singer Sargent (1856 – 1925) painted at Twin Falls, Lake O’Hara, and Emerald Lake in 1916, he complained about the poor weather conditions and never returned. 


With the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in 1885, national and international travellers began to arrive and settle. Guides Tom Wilson, Bill Peyto, and Jimmy Simpson

soon followed earlier settlers. Dave White Mercantile and the Brewster Company became established. Community theatrical groups, art exhibits, congregations, sports teams and clubs became part of the local scene. From a quiet, hardworking yet family-oriented town, Banff has grown to support an international tourist industry of over four million visitors per year. While the town works to retain its vibrant local character, community activities are often lost amid the glitz and glamour of the tourist economy. As the central access point to the park, artists, adventurers, and general enthusiasts enjoy Banff’s unwavering hospitality.


With close proximity to prime artistic locations, the town site of Banff continues to be a destination for many artists. Locally, Mount Rundle, the massive configuration of Cascade Mountain and the gently flowing green Bow River entice the creative spirit. Farther afield yet still within reach is the greater Lake Louise region with the Victoria Glacier, the Valley of the Ten Peaks, and the Moraine Lake rock slides; the many lakes and high country viewpoints in the Lake O’Hara area; the glaciers and trails at Bow Lake; and the many vistas at British Columbia’s Glacier National Park and Mount Assiniboine.


As a designated Class A facility and the principle art museum in the region, the Whyte Museum plays an important role in showcasing many of Canada’s top artists.

Image: Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith, R. C. A. (1846 – 1923, Canadian). Bow River, Banff. Prior to 1887. Purchased from Sotheby Parke Bernet (Canada) Ltd, Toronto, 1982.

Drawn to the West 
Tour of exhibition

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