Artists, Illustration

Arthur Heming – The Drama of the Forests: Romance and Adventure

Arthur Henry Howard Heming (January 17, 1870 – October 30, 1940) was a Canadian painter and novelist known as the “chronicler of the North” for his paintings, sketches, essays and books about Canada’s North.

Born in Paris, Ontario and raised in Hamilton, he studied in New York City and the Old Lyme Art Colony under Frank DuMond, and in London with the Welsh master Frank Brangwyn. For most of his life, Arthur Heming, “painter of the great white north”, painted in a monochrome scheme of black, white, and yellow tones, choosing this style at least nominally because of an early diagnosis of color blindness. These possibly self-imposed restrictions lasted inexplicably until the age of sixty, when a full, nearly technicolor palette suddenly splashed across his canvases. Thematically, he worked with scenes whose colors were appropriately blanched: winter hunting and trapping expeditions that he took for the Hudson Bay Company and alongside people of the First Nations. His narrow focus in painting mirrored his work as a traveler, novelist, and illustrator, and the commercial nature of his output certainly influenced the mixed reception he received in the art market. In Canada he existed as an outsider of both the trapping communities he traveled with in the north and of his peers in the fine art world. His best work is transcendent, calling to mind the rich velvety grayscale of Gerhard Richter’s realistic paintings, while his weakest work is the sort of mystic wolf lore that later became the vernacular of furry bedspreads and black crewneck sweatshirts. Heming was conflicted about both his place in his homeland and his status as an artist. This is perhaps why he was so eager to find an adopted home for many consecutive summers in a distinctively non-arctic landscape, a farming community on the Long Island Sound, Old Lyme Connecticut.

He was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.

The Hemings emigrated from Bognor (Regis) England in the top half of the 19th century. Edward Francis Heming left Bognor and settled just outside Guelph, Ontario. on the Eramosa Line in 1832. He called the farm ‘Bognor Lodge’ and it is still there today in Heming ownership. The northern half of the farm was expropriated and flooded to make Guelph Lake.

The Heming family traces its ancestors back to King Harold Heming of Denmark, the last Viking king of Denmark, and the one who brought Christianity to Denmark. They eventually traveled through France and settled there having the town named ‘Heming’ after them. When France became Roman Catholic, they were/are Protestants, they emigrated again just across the English Channel to the seaside spa of Bognor.

Edward Heming had 5 sons in Canada West. One of them was Charles Heming and he became the postmaster of the small village of Sydenham. Because there was another growing town near Ottawa with the same name, Charles was asked to change the name of Sydenham. He changed it to ‘Bognor’ and it is there today. A tribute to the pioneering Canadian Heming family.

In a 1940 article on Heming in The Beaver, W.J. Phillips, a respected Canadian artist, quoted a profile on Heming from the art magazine The Connoisseur.
“Through his activities as traveler, hunter, illustrator, author and painter, he has acquired an international reputation. He possesses an astonishing vigorous style, the more unique because it owes nothing to any classified school or tradition, He revels in the dramatic incidents of field and forest, interpreting them in boldly emphasized patterns and in sweeping and strongly marked rhythms-the sense of which doubtless came to him through his observations of the movement of wild things against the northern background of snow and crystal-clear air.”
Phillips was right about Heming’s talents and abilities. He was wrong in one thing, however. He closed his article with, “At any rate he has many more years left him of active labor, for he is still strong and vigorous.” A month after the article appeared, Heming died.

Arthur Heming’s books –

The Drama Of The Forests
Spirit Lake
Arthur Heming at Internet Archive