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Military artists in Thomas Burrowes’s time were trained to record construction projects as they evolved so that distant authorities could assess progress. Equally, in the age before topographical maps were available, they performed the valuable task of recording the landscape around military installations, where battles might potentially be fought.

Some military artists also resorted to art as a pastime, to while away the hours while posted to isolated parts of the country, and Thomas Burrowes emulated them in this. Burrowes, who did not study art as an officer, was probably self-taught as an artist and had ceased to be a soldier when he painted these works. Nevertheless, he continued to live and work in a military world after leaving the Royal Sappers and Miners, and his paintings bear the unmistakable military stamp.

Like his military brethren, Burrowes used watercolour and paper albums (easy to carry around) to produce his paintings. He probably also carried a small paintbox and sketchbook, wrapped in a waterproof oilskin, on his travels.

The sawmill at Kingston Mills was painted around 1830 by James Pattison Cockburn. He was an officer with the Royal Engineers, trained in art at the Royal Military Academy in England and specifically assigned to produce topographical paintings in Canada (1826 to 1832).

Watercolour: Kingston Mills, (Ontario), [ca. 1830]

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Kingston Mills, (Ontario), [ca. 1830]
James Pattison Cockburn
Watercolour with pen and brushpoint and brown ink over pencil on wove paper
23.8 x 34.4 cm (9½" x 13½")
Reference Code: LAC C-012627
Library and Archives Canada

Thomas Burrowes’s painting of the sawmill at Kingston Mills (1828) shows that, though his style is naïve, he did paint in the military tradition of artists like James Pattison Cockburn.

Watercolour: Saw Mill &c. at Kingston Mills, as it appeared in May 1828, 1828

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Saw Mill &c. at Kingston Mills, as it appeared in May 1828, 1828
Thomas Burrowes fonds
Reference Code: C 1-0-0-0-70
Archives of Ontario, I0002189