There is a watercolour of the same subject by Raphael, dated 1864, in a private collection, Canada.
‘A winter version of the front of the Bonsecours Market signed and dated 1880 is a splendid composition of the bustling activity on 19th century St. Paul Street. In spite of the date indicated, the work may have been executed much earlier or it may be a close copy of a painting described in 1864.
The subject was a very characteristic street scene in front of the Bonsecours Market in the height of the early morning business in the winter time. The figures are full of life and animation, and the costumes, the carriages, the snow, and the winter atmosphere just after sunrise are all rendered with remarkable happiness and faithfulness. [The Montreal Herald, 12 Feb. 1864]
‘Another 1864 review [The Daily Witness, 12 Feb. 1864] of the same painting supplied additional information, “[It] depicts a scene on St. Paul Street opposite the Bonsecours Market”.
‘Some interesting undated oil studies may relate to this winter version, or to the original 1864 canvas on which it may have been based. The Flower Vendor may be a study for the lady seated in front of the street lamp on the left, holding a basket in her hand. Also the habitant sitting, smoking a pipe, was similarly depicted in repeated paintings by Raphael. The position of the boy seated next to a companion in his sleigh, whipping his horse, has some characteristics in common with the gesture of the driver of the one horse sleigh in Habitants Attacked by Wolves. However one was not necessarily the study for the other.
‘In L’Opinion Publique of January 8, 1870, there is an engraving of a winter scene of the same locale, this time labelled Le Marché Bonsecours la Veille de Noël. The viewpoint and arrangement of the building along St. Paul Street is close to that of Raphael’s 1880 version. The presence and interaction of people and animals along the street, although not identical, is similar. …’
S.R. Goelman, William Raphael, R.C.A. (1833-1914) (M.A. thesis, Concordia University, Montreal, 1978), pp.178-9, plate 131.
Raphael, a charter member of the Royal Canadian Academy, a founder of the Society of Canadian Artists and the National Art Gallery of Canada was born in Nakel, Prussia. From an Orthodox Jewish family, and trained in the early 1850s by the portraitist Johann Eduard Wolff and genre painter Karl Begas at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, Raphael emigrated to America in 1856, moving on from New York to Montreal (where one of his brothers lived) in April 1857. He supported himself with portrait commissions, and worked in Notman’s studio in the early years, painting photograph portraits, and became a noted portrait and landscape artist, but is best remembered for his genre scenes, painted in the style of his Berlin teacher Begas. His best known work today his ‘Immigrants at Montreal’ painted in 1866 (now known as ‘Behind Bonsecours Market, Montreal’), is in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada (6673). ‘Like Cornelius Krieghoff, Raphael was known for his lively genre scenes, depicting habitant and native life. In them he incorporated a formal realism, basing his compositions on carefully prepared sketches. Yet he lent them a casual air through relaxed, often witty, mises en scène, for example in the winter scene Bonsecours (1880), where there is a lively sense of activity, anecdote, and humour.’ (S.R. Goelman, DCB)
The present canvas is a masterpiece from the height of Raphael’s career in Canada, just ahead of the criticism that his conservative practice and teaching methods would attract from 1883 on: ‘… the years 1879-1882 seemed to represent the peak of his career. In 1879, he was accepted into the Ontario Society of Artists; he exhibited with the Royal Society of Artists in London, England; he produced his major canvas Indian Encampment on the Lower St. Lawrence; and he was invited to teach at the Convent of the Sisters of Ste-Anne. He received acclaim for his anatomical drawings from Dr. William Osler and some were published in two major medical journals. In 1880, the Marquis of Lorne complimented Raphael by purchasing one of his habitant paintings, painted that year; the new Bonsecours scene that he had just completed received wonderful reviews; he was one of the founders of the R.C.A. and was inducted as one of the esteemed original members, seemingly through the support of his colleagues at the Art Association and the Ontario Society of Artists; he was respected enough to be offered a teaching post at the new Art Association classes; he was invited by Lucius O’Brien, President of the R.C.A., to prepare illustrations for the proposed book Picturesque Canada; and in 1882 he considered himself to be a proud founder of the National Gallery of Canada, where his diploma painting now hung.’ (from Goelman’s biographical notes on the artist at www.klinkhoff.ca)