A lovely tooled leather binding with a hand-painted scenic view on the fore-edge,
most likely of Winnipeg from the St. Boniface ferry landing, ca. 1885.
The painting bears a striking similarity to an engraving of this location drawn by
George Munro Grant, which appeared in the classic book “Picturesque Canada” in 1882.
Appearing on the book “Lives of Eminent Naturalists”. 1840: W. H. Lizars, Edinburgh. Small 8vo. Black leather binding with Art-Nouveau style gilt decoration to boards, and gilt rules and lettering to spine. Page edges gilt. A few scuffs and abrasions to binding, occasional light foxing, contents unmarked, binding tight and sound.
Fore-edge paintings have a mystery about them which leaves collectors intrigued:
they are hidden treasures, awaiting discovery.
It’s possible that a wealthy patron had commissioned the work at a critical juncture during the city’s history: Winnipeg was incorporated as a city in 1873, and with the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway to Winnipeg in 1881, mass migration to the prairies could begin in earnest. As the population in Winnipeg began to grow, the bustling metropolis became the commercial hub between Canada’s east and west.
Conversely, one could argue that if the image was painted in the country of its publisher, a British artist could have used a contemporary image of an exotic North American outpost to adorn the book. Naturalists were drawn to North America for its pristine nature and the attendant possibilities for research and exploration: perhaps the artist fancied Winnipeg as the outpost where civilization meets nature.
We may never be sure of the story behind this piece, hence the allure.