Archival Corner – Week 5: Mapping Banting’s Art

Frederick Banting’s dream of giving up science and devoting his life to art was cruelly cut short by the air crash that took his life in 1941. Although he often despaired of never becoming a true artist, Banting left an impressive legacy of more than 200 paintings, drawings and wood carvings produced between 1920 and the outset of WWII—leading some to observe that had he survived, Banting’s talent might well have led to fame as a painter in the tradition of Canada’s Group of Seven.

Banting’s artistic genius took flight in London, Ontario in an escape from the boredom and frustration of a struggling medical practice, and over the next twenty years he was inspired to pursue artistic endeavours across Canada and around the world. As an amateur landscape painter, Banting’s work encompassed a staggering breadth of geographical terrain: from rural Ontario farms and mining towns to Arctic landscapes and Quebec villages; from Northwestern Canadian lakes and mountains to Dutch and French townscapes; and from Spanish architecture to the Russian countryside. Whether on sketching trips throughout Canada with his friend and artistic mentor A.Y. Jackson, or on personal retreat during his international trips in Europe and Russia, or as a diversion while attending formal medical conventions, Banting’s artworks cover more than seventy-five separate geographical locations.

As he so often gave away his artworks to friends and family, Banting’s art is now dispersed among private individuals, art collectors, galleries and museums throughout Canada and beyond. No complete listing or catalogue raisonné exists, nor is it known precisely how many individual works of art Banting produced during his career. Banting House NHSC holds a substantial body of his work in its collection, and is poised to produce a catalogue illustrating selections from the more than twenty-five Banting works it has acquired or received as gifts* since its founding in 1984. The publication of the catalogue coincides with the centenary celebrations of the discovery of insulin throughout 2020-21.

In a sneak preview of what’s in store in the catalogue, clink on this link to the new digital Banting as an Artist – Google Map to discover the sites of the artworks in the Banting House collection.

By clicking on any of blue artist palette icons on the map, the viewer can see the artwork Banting produced in that location and read a short description of its significance. Here, for example, is what the icon for Georgian Bay, Ontario reveals:

Scrolling down the sidebar reveals the titles of artworks produced at each location, and a quotation or a description of the site. A larger view of each featured artwork can be seen by clicking on the image at the top of the sidebar, as in the painting Georgian Bay, 1932 below:

Post Script on the Archival Process:

Creating a custom Google map is a challenging but rewarding endeavour that is not without its (sometimes frustrating) editorial limitations. No special software is required. Google Maps takes the aspiring mapmaker through the paces on its guide: Create or open a map – Computer – My Maps Help, and there are also some helpful online resources and tutorials to assist firsttimers. I am indebted to my Public History (Class of 2020) classmate Mike Bartlett for guiding me step-by-step through the process that he followed in creating a custom map of historic sites for the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering. You can see Mike’s CSCE map here.

Google Maps allows you to add your own landmarks, routes, directions, locations and images directly onto a base Google Map. What it doesn’t allow you to do is create a new landscape, analyze trends or recount detailed stories associated with that landscape; that sort of venture is better realized with the more elegant software for GIS story mapping available through such sites as ArcGIS World of Storytelling.

Regardless of the approach, the creation of a story map requires the compilation of a database consisting of geographical locations (including GPS latitude and longitude points) and markers of significance. In our map of Banting’s art sites, extensive research was undertaken to verify the dating and location for artworks in the Banting House collection. Banting left several handwritten diaries of his nine sketching trips with AY Jackson between 1927 and 1937, enabling us to ascertain the sites and dates of many of the paintings he produced on those trips. Other paintings in the collection were cross-checked against Banting’s personal correspondence, Marion Banting’s diaries and correspondence, contemporary media accounts, and published sources by Group of Seven painters A.Y. Jackson, Lawren Harris, A.J. Casson, and biographers Lloyd Stevenson and Michael Bliss. In a few cases, educated guesswork enabled us to determine the most likely location, date, and even subject matter of individual artworks.

The stories of each of the Banting artworks in Banting House collection will be explored further in the forthcoming art catalogue. Watch this space for news of its release!

This post was written by Lorraine Tinsley, an intern at Banting House NHSC. Lorraine is currently completing her MA in Public History at the University of Western Ontario.


* Through the great generosity of donors, including Ms Marjorie Dolan, Mr Stephen Janes, The Hon John B Aird, Dr William L Tew, Dr Chester B Stewart, Dr William Franks, Dr William C Gibson, Mrs Margot Montgomery, Ms Hertha Pfeifer, Mr Stephen Klinck and Mr James Fitzgerald, twenty-five of the works in the collection have come to Banting House as gifts. The remainder have been acquired through the Banting House Acquisition Fund, or on loan to Banting House by Ms Mary Jane Novack and Mr Rob McLean. As well, two previously unattributed works by Banting have recently been identified in the Banting Family Fonds, donated to Banting House by Mrs Nancy Hardy-Banting following the death of her husband Bill, Banting’s only son, in 1998. Banting House hopes to continue expanding its collection to provide even greater coverage of the worldwide accomplishments of Banting as an artist, and to share with the public his extraordinary artistic legacy.

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