Kane, Paul (1810–71), artist, was born 3 September 1810, probably at Mallow, Co. Cork, the sixth of the four sons and four daughters of Michael Kane, from Preston, Lancashire, British army corporal, and Frances Loach, of Mallow, Co. Cork. About 1819 the family emigrated to Upper Canada (Ontario) and settled at York (Toronto), where his father became a wine and spirits merchant. Kane took up painting and by 1830 was receiving instruction from Thomas Drury, a local painter and art teacher at Upper Canada College. Having decided to become a professional artist he went into business as a sign painter, the customary way for North American painters to launch themselves into the art world.
From 1834 to 1836 Kane lived in Cobourg, Upper Canada, where he worked as a decorative painter in a furniture factory for his future father-in-law, F. S. Clench, and painted portraits. In 1836 he moved to Detroit, Michigan. Finding a good market in America for his portraits, he sailed down the Mississippi (painting the captain's portrait for passage) and spent the next five years (1836–41) painting portraits in St Louis, Mobile (Alabama), and New Orleans.
In June 1841 Kane sailed from New Orleans to Marseilles, then to Genoa and finally to Rome, where he studied at several art academies and copied old masters. His European study also took him to Naples, Florence, Switzerland, and Paris, and in October 1842 he wintered in London, where he met George Catlin, an American artist exhibiting his paintings and artefacts of American natives. Catlin predicted that European expansion in North America would destroy native culture, and sought to document it in art and through the collection of artefacts. Kane took this view to heart and decided to record a visual picture of natives in Canada as well.
Kane sailed from London and arrived in Mobile in April 1843. He remained there until late 1844, painting portraits to clear his debts, before returning to Toronto in late 1844 or early 1845. In June 1845 he left Toronto for a preliminary visit to the Great Lakes region, living outdoors and painting natives in preparation for a greater journey. After returning to Toronto that autumn, he secured the permission of the North American superintendent of the Hudson's Bay Company to travel through the latter's territory (present-day northern Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, and Northwest Territories), was commissioned to sketch native life, and given permission to travel with the company's fur brigades and lodge free of charge at company posts.
Kane began journeying westwards in the spring of 1846, travelling by canoe and sketching during portages. By December that year he had reached Fort Vancouver (Vancouver, Washington), and then rambled up and down the western coast of present-day Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, sketching landscapes and portraits and collecting native artefacts. In July 1847 he began an indirect journey back to Toronto, sketching native life along the way, and arrived in Toronto in October 1848. Between 1845 and 1848 he had made over 700 sketches that were used in his later oil canvases. From the 1850s Kane had some commissions from the Canadian government as well as private patrons. But by 1858 he had started to lose his sight, and he was forced to give up his Toronto studio by the early 1860s. He died in Toronto on 20 February 1871.
Kane's paintings and sketches are among the earliest record of life in the northwest before European settlement. His artwork and writings influenced Canadian and international perceptions of Canadian native peoples into the twentieth century. He published numerous articles on his northwest travels in the Canadian Journal in the mid- to late 1850s, and his classic Wanderings of an artist among the Indians of North America was published in 1859. Most of his paintings and sketches are in the National Gallery of Canada, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the Stark Foundation (Stark, Texas). He married Harriet Clench, of Cobourg, Upper Canada in 1853 and had two sons and two daughters.