Friday, April 15, 2016

A Young Louis Riel

I really enjoyed the research work I did as a precursor to creating Tag 189 for the Hillcrest Mine Disaster memorial. That very positive experience gave me the thirst to do another historical piece; perhaps a full-figure bronze this time.

In my quest to find a suitable subject I sorted through (clicked through I should say, since I used the internet) one of Canada's early newspapers, the Canadian Illustrated News, which was published between 1869 and 1883. While reviewing the articles and images I came across a picture/illustration of a young Louis Riel. It was in the January 15, 1870 edition of the paper. Riel would have been 26 at the time, basking in the success of the first rebellion; the Red River Rebellion. It's a picture of him I had never seen before; one that doesn't get much play. Wow, I thought...I like this guy.

When I leaned in with my magnifying glass to get a closer look at the illustration it seemed to me that the original photograph had been modified during the print-plate-etching process. It seemed the paper was trying to soften Riel's image since his somewhat stern facial expression and bold stance already made him a rather daunting figure. He was a big man. It's reported that the Illustrated News employed a young engraver, William Leggo, to work on their illustrations.He was a journeyman apprentice at the time. Although Leggo became a well known artist, his inexperience showed in his work on the Riel engraving.


Riel's left hand is without tone indicating that its position was most probably re etched onto his hip rather than being menacingly gripped around the rather lethal, double-tipped, fighting Bowie knife there at his left side.

And another part of his arsenal, looks to be the Canadian, militia-edition Colt revolver, which I'm told is the holy grail of Canadian military antiques. It's held in an open holster with its octagonal barrel exposed. The area of the pistol seems to have been darkened to soften the visual impact of its rather formidable appearance.

Although first glance suggests the long gun is a musket, there are tell-tale signs that the rifle is high-tech for 1870; probably a compression-firing Peabody.

Further, as I learn more about Riel and get more of a feel for his character and how meticulously he clothed himself, I seriously doubt that he would have positioned his hat on the end of his rifle that way. Anyway it wouldn't be perched like that if he had. And where's the "Cienture Flechee" the arrowed sash so symbolic of the Rebellion....

The magnificent buffalo coat with sheared collar, cut to the latest fashion of the day, in a double-breasted Duffle style, buckskin fringed pants, Métis beaded leggings and moccasins, and such iconic weaponry...all add up to 1870s chique!

So, let's see if we can get Louis back to...to being Riel! I've set up a full figure 24" armature and I've started to build up some clay, but I need to continue on with my research, to get a better understanding of Riel's personal arsenalbefore I go further....