Canoes in a Fog, Lake Superior (1869) by Frances Anne Hopkins
Close up of Frances Anne Hopkins and Edward Martin Hopkins


Frances Anne Hopkins (nee Beechey) was born in England on February 2, 1838 and died in England March 5, 1919. Hopkins was the granddaughter of the Court portrait painter Sir William Beechey and Anne Phyllis Beechey (nee Jessop) who was a well known local painter. Hopkins was the daughter of Rear Admiral Frederick William Beechey who was an Arctic explorer. Her mothers name was Charlotte Beechey (nee Stapleton). By 1858, Hopkins had been taught the techniques of painting and sketching at home. She was a skilled artist before the time of her marriage in 1858.

In 1858, Hopkins sailed with her family to Canada. That same year, at the age of 20 she was married to Edward Martin Hopkins. Edward Hopkins (1820-1893) was secretary to the general superintendent of Hudson’s Bay Company, Sir George Simpson. Edward Hopkins was a widower with three children. Hopkins first settled in Lachine, Quebec where she had had two sons by 1861. Also, in 1861 she and her husband moved to a house on Cote des Neiges, near Montreal. In 1863 at Cote des Neiges the couple had another child and were now caring for six children. Frances Anne Hopkins and her family returned to England in 1870.

Hopkins would take short canoe trips with her husband and Sir George Simpson from the Hudson’s Bay Company for tours and inspection of Company post. She recorded her entire life travels in her sketchbooks. She and her husband had several trips including a canoe trip to Lake Superior in 1864. Hopkins canoe trip along the Lake Superior extended from the Upper Great Lakes to as far as Thunder Bay and Marquette, Michigan. Best known of her works were voyageur canoe paintings, Hopkins has several of her works in the collections of Library and Archives Canada. She traveled along the fur trading routes with her husband and she sketched landscapes and activities of her trips. Hopkins placed herself and her husband in the seat of the canoe, in most of her paintings of voyageurs and their canoes. Women partaking in canoe touring travels were unlikely in the 19th century.


Hopkins brought her painting Canoes in a Fog, Lake Superior, to the Royal Academy in London. Hopkins used her canoe travels and sights in her art work. Her works were displayed at Canadian art exhibitions from 1860 and onwards. After her return to England in 1870 her works were exhibited in the Royal Academy in London from 1869 to 1918. Hopkins works had been exhibited in most Canadian institutions from central Canada (Ontario) to western Canada (Alberta). Currently the Canoes in a Fog, Lake Superior, 1869 by Frances Anne Hopkins is currently in the Glenbow Museum Collection and was purchased in 1955. Hopkins work is more likely to be found in archival collections rather than art museums because of its historical context.

Today, Hopkins’ art is assumed to be a documentation of voyageurs’ travels of the nineteenth century. Contemporary critics like Nancy Tousley from Calgary, took into account that during the nineteenth century women were discouraged to become professional artists. Hopkins works have been exhibited at the Art Association in Montreal, thirteen times where critics observed and wrote about her art. The exhibition is the largest showing of one woman’s work to date in North America.

Critics of the 19th century notice that Hopkins sense of observation gave her paintings a rare accuracy in detail; therefore, is proof of her natural talent. The branch floating on the water has realistic colour on the stem of the branch and the water reflects the leaves of the branch. The mist is gliding over the branch incorporating the realistic style of the pictures. In the painting the canoe has a reflection in the water and the water reflects the sky, as well. The sky, branch and canoes are being evenly reflected by the water and the daylight through the mist.

The exhibitions in Montreal and Toronto (in the mid 20th century) focused on Hopkins watercolor sketches more than her oil paintings. When someone observed her paintings they are usually delighted by fine art of English watercolour, or the history of Victorian Canada, or how Canada looked to an English lady a century ago. Some contemporary critics believe that Hopkins was capturing the essence of transition from canoe exports to railway.


While Hopkins was in England she worked on her sketches and memories of Canada in a studio where the majority of her paintings were in oil and watercolour. Hopkins experiences were documented in sketchbooks at the time of her travels and are the major subject of her paintings. Canoes in a Fog, Lake Superior is a beautiful painting and is an image of tranquillity in the backwoods of nature, as the Canoes disappear into the fog. Hopkins combines realistic clear detail with a lyrical passionate style inspired by her love of nature.

Hopkins painted herself and her husband in the center of the nearest canoe and she is holding a sketchbook, in Canoes in a Fog, Lake Superior. She placed herself in the painting to represent a memory of when she was in that canoe on Lake Superior. Hopkins had chosen the viewpoint of the canoe as if she was travelling behind in another Canoe (possible the canoe could mean traveling along her past experiences). Canoes in a Fog, Lake Superior by Hopkins presents three North canoes entering the mist. North canoes were used by fur traders and were about twenty-five feet long and had a crew of eight or nine.

Frances Anne Hopkins contribution to Canadian history was accurately capturing on canvas the country’s first major cargo transportation system and the type of people who traveled on it. Her work is described as a historical illustration rather than high art. Hopkins skilfully captured a practice of transporting pelts by canoe which was being replaced by the industrial railways. Many contemporary critics find the painting interesting because of the canoes used were the types of canoes used in the original fur trading.

Canoes in a Fog, Lake Superior portrays three canoes drifting in a diagonal line away from the observer. The ripples in the water behind the canoe suggest that the canoe is moving through the still water. The fog and surrounding water of Lake Superior seems to be absorbing the canoes as to represent an adventure into the unknown. The two canoes ahead have disappeared and the third canoe has a portion of it disappearing as it enters into the mist. In the summer, fog is common along the north and east shores of the lake and the fog dissolves in the morning sunlight (allowing more realism to Hopkins painting).


1. Chalmers, John W. “Frances Ann Hopkins: The Lady Who Painted Canoes,” Canadian Geographical Journal Vol. 83, No. 1, 1971: 18-27 (journal article).
2. Forster, Merna. “100 Canadian Heroines: Famous and Forgotten Faces,” Dundurn Press Ltd (2004) pp. 97-99 (book).

3. Graves, Algernon. New York: Lennox Hill, A Dictionary of Artists Who Have Exhibited Works in the Principal London Exhibitions from 1760-1893 (1970) (book).
4. Mays, John Bentley. “Engaging celebrations of Victorian Canada” Toronto: The Globe and Mail (Toronto) 25 April 1990 (newspaper article).
5. Tousley, Nancy. "Paintings capture Canada's voyageur era" Calgary: Calgary Herald 29 November 1990 (newspaper article).
6. National Archives of Canada. Ottawa: National Archives of Canada, The Painted Past: Selected Paintings from the Picture Division of the Public Archives of Canada 1987 (catalogue).
7. Rand, Margaret. Rediscovering Voyageur Artist Frances Hopkins, Canadian Geographic Vol. 102, No. 3, 1982: 22-29 (journal article).
8. Glenbow Museum: Where the World Meets the West (Collection and Research)
copyright Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc.
9. Library and Archives of Canada Frances Anne Hopkins