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Banner: Detecting the Truth: Fakes, Forgeries and TrickeryBanner: Detecting the Truth: Fakes, Forgeries and Trickery

Imaginary Images

Let's say your favourite celebrity is coming to your school. What's the first thing you'll put in your backpack that day? Your camera, of course! But what did people do before the invention of cameras? How could they know what a person, a place or an event looked like if they weren't there to see it with their own eyes? That's where Imaginary Images come into play…

Print of an imaginary view of Canada, [1528]


1ère vue de Canada, [1528]

Print of an imaginary Aboriginal woman of Canada, 1796-1804

Femme Sauvage du Canada, 1796-1804

Documentary Art

Before the invention of cameras, people commonly hired painters and engravers to "re-create" an event or a scene. Unfortunately, the artists often didn't have much to go on since they hadn't been there themselves either! They had to imagine what to illustrate based on stories they had been told or had read. Some artists added elements to make the scene more exotic, while others removed elements out of modesty. And sometimes the results were…um…interesting, to say the least!

Look closely at this print entitled 1ère vue de Canada (First View of Canada). Notice anything odd? How about the palm trees and the tropical plants? Although we don't know for sure when this print was made or who the artist was, one thing is certain -- he or she obviously hadn't been to Canada!

In 1788, Jean-Marie Mixelle engraved this print entitled Femme Sauvage du Canada (Wild Woman of Canada) to illustrate a book called Costumes civils (Civil Clothing). It was then sent to an artist to be coloured in. This specific print is supposed to depict an Aboriginal woman of Canada. What's up with the blonde hair and the pink leggings? Seems like Mr. Mixelle and the colourist didn't know much about Aboriginal women!

Print of an imaginary view of Capital Place in Québec, circa 1775


Vue de la Place Capitale à Quebeck, circa 1775

Print of an imaginary scene of beaver-hunting in Canada, circa 1782


Beaver Hunting in Canada, circa 1782

In the 18th century, Europeans were very curious about what North America looked like. They were ready to pay good money to see illustrations depicting this faraway place. François Xavier Habermann understood this and decided to cash in. This hard-working engraver and publisher made many prints like the one you see here entitled Vue de la Place Capitale à Quebeck (View of Capital Place in Quebeck). The catch? Habermann had never set foot outside of Europe! The wide and fancy-looking streets that he engraves are entirely made up to resemble the "civilized" streets of a European city. Since very few people had been to Québec at that time, no one could criticize his work.

This print, Beaver Hunting in Canada, appears in a book called A New and Complete System of Geography, published in 1778. In this serious, two-volume work, the author Charles Theodore Middleton writes about all the mysteries of the Americas, including beavers that attack hunters and build dams as big as apartment buildings. Ah, those crazy 18th century beavers!

Did you know…?

Some people changed sections of paintings out of modesty.

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Long ago, wealthy people often posed for hours to get their portrait painted. This is how we now know what they looked like. But sometimes important people, like Jacques Cartier, Samuel de Champlain and Laura Secord, never had the time, the chance or the money to get their portrait made. And since it is important for us to be able to "see" our heroes, some painters decided to make portraits of these individuals even though they didn't really know what they looked like!

Imaginary portrait of Jacques Cartier, circa 1844

Imaginary portrait of Jacques Cartier, circa 1844

Imaginary portrait of Samuel de Champlain, 1854

Imaginary portrait of Samuel de Champlain, 1854

This portrait of Jacques Cartier was painted by Théophile Hamel in about 1844. Since Cartier died in 1557 it is obvious that he did not pose for this. So how did Hamel know what Cartier looked like? As far as we know, no portraits of Cartier were ever made while he was alive. Hamel based his portrait of the famous "discoverer of Canada" on a previous painting made by François Riss. Riss, in turn, was inspired by a sketch of a man from the same era (but not Cartier) that he found at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. So who is this man? He is someone that potentially looked like Cartier.

Hamel went on to paint this famous portrait of Samuel de Champlain. Again, this is only a fictitious rendition of what Champlain could have looked like since no one really knows. The truth is that Hamel based his painting on a 1654 engraving by Balthazar Moncornet. Why? -- you might ask. Well, Hamel thought Champlain must have looked like Michel Particelli d'Emery, the subject of this work of art. But did Champlain really have a large moustache and a funny little beard? Since many fashionable men of Champlain's era did, maybe he did too.

Painting of an imaginary scene of the meeting between Laura Secord and Lieutenant Fitzgibbon, circa 1925

Imagined scene of the meeting between Laura Secord and Lieutenant Fitzgibbon, circa 1925

Did Laura Secord have brown or black hair? Was she short or tall? No one really knows. When Lorne Kidd Smith made this painting of Secord warning Lieutenant Fitzgibbon's troops, he invented the scene by basing it on legends and historical accounts. He was also inspired by other paintings to recreate the clothing, uniforms and hairstyles that people of that time period would have had. It is the closest thing we will ever have to a snapshot of what happened that crucial day.


engraved: cut or carved on a hard surface such as stone or metal

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