The Painted Valley: Artists Along Alberta's Bow River, 1845–2000.


176 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-1-55238-207-3
DDC 760'.0449971233




Reviewed by Patricia Morley

Patricia Morley is a professor of English and Canadian Studies at
Concordia University, an associate fellow of the Simone de Beauvoir
Institute, and author of Margaret Laurence: The Long Journey Home.


Sixteen handsome black-and-white illustrations and 64 colour plates together with an excellent text add up to an impressive book that does justice to the breath-taking scenery it celebrates. A short concluding chapter, “The Power of Landscape,” covers what the artists experienced, the challenges they encountered, and the dramatic differences caused by the arrival of the railway. By gathering the paintings into groups of related images, the writers concluded that, over the years, the artists had viewed the valley through a sequence of lenses that could be summarized as topographical, romantic, impressionistic, academic watercolourist, and post-abstractionist styles.


What changed the valley from its early state was the arrival of the railway in the 1880s. Its builders saw an opportunity to use modern technology for the same purposes as those used by the Europeans who had preceded them along the Bow River. The results of their imagination moved cleverly between the two contrasting images of the valley: the sublime and the picturesque. Painters such as Lucius O’Brien chose to paint the snow-capped mountains above and the rushing streams below as evidence of nature’s awe-inspiring power. Other artists domesticated and romanticized the scenery by painting fishermen in canoes on calm lakes surrounded by awesome mountains peaks. Some painters oscillated between the two approaches, romantic and domestic.


The eight pages of notes are grouped under headings such as “Encounters with the Valley,” “Easels along the Bow,” “Imperial Topographers,” “Railway Romantics,” “The Long Shadow of Impressionism,” and “Seeing the Valley as Home.” A final chapter, “Modernism and After,” covers the work of artists like Borduas and Riopelle in Quebec and their influence on the naturalistic style. The chapter summarizes the sequence of lenses over the years, from topographical, romantic, impressionistic, and post-abstractionist styles. Armstrong and Nelles conclude that the power of landscape is enduring and transcendent: “Even modernism could not subdue it.”


Armstrong, Christopher, and H.V. Nelles., “The Painted Valley: Artists Along Alberta's Bow River, 1845–2000.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 12, 2024,