Sunday, February 10, 2013

"Adventurers in Paint": The Group of Seven

“Painting the Canadian scene in a Canadian fashion” was the vision of the artists who came to call themselves The Group of Seven. Between the years of 1920 and 1931, they held eight exhibitions of their works, and forever changed the landscape of Canadian painting. Rather than bore you with lots of text, today I want to let their paintings speak for themselves. Here are seven paintings by seven great Canadian artists!

The Edge of the Maple Wood
This first painting is by A.Y. Jackson. It might look like a muddy hill to us, but to the young Canadian artists at that time, it was “like a glowing flame packed with potential energy and loveliness.” That quote comes from Arthur Lismer, who saw the painting at the 1913 exhibition of the Ontario Society of the Arts with friends J.E.H. MacDonald, Tom Thomson, and Lawren Harris. They were so impressed that they invited Jackson to join their circle.

The Guide's Home
This painting by Arthur Lismer really shows the group’s debt to French Impressionism. Artists of that school used dabs of paint to express light and movement. With this painting, you can almost hear the rustle of the wind in the birch trees and feel the crunch of fall leaves underfoot.

First Snow, Lake Superior
Lawren Harris was a leader and visionary in the circle of young artists. One of the group wrote that art, for Lawren Harris, “was almost a mission. He believed that a country which ignored the arts left no record of itself worth preserving.” This painting of the north shore of Lake Superior shares the same smooth, rounded surfaces that are characteristic of his other works. He has simplified the ruggedness of the landscape to suggest a purified spiritual place.

Bisset Farm
Most of the Group of Seven painted with oil on canvas, but Franklin Carmichael developed a unique style with watercolour on paper. I like how this one displays the grandeur of the hills that rise high in the backdrop, set over the small, tenuous presence of the family farm in the foreground. Still to this day, our presence in Canada is small indeed in relation to the vast wilderness beyond our cities.

The Cloud, Red Mountain
Unlike most the group, Fred Varley preferred painting people more than lakes and trees. But when he took a teaching position in British Columbia in 1926, he couldn’t resist the grandeur and beauty of the Rocky Mountains. He wrote enthusiastically to a friend “British Columbia is heaven.” At first, I didn’t like The Cloud, Red Mountain, but it has grown on me since. Varley lifts our gaze to the sky above the mountains, with its rich deep blue in contrast with the sun-touched clouds.

Fire-Swept Algoma
The artists didn’t always paint scenes of arresting beauty; sometimes they turn our attention to the wild or destructive power of nature. In this composition by Frank Johnston, we see a hillside ravaged by forest fire. What I like here is how the artist shows us both the fierce and regenerative side of nature. If you look closely, you can see green blades of grass rising up from the forest floor.

Fine Weather, Georgian Bay
Georgian Bay was a favorite subject for the artists. Some of their most memorable works show windswept trees clinging for dear life to the rocky shoreline. In this one though, James MacDonald shows a rare view of the Bay in peaceful weather. The foreground shows three friends together enjoying the wide expanse of sun and sky, giving a vivid picture of how the artists saw themselves and their work. On a camping trip to Algonquin Park with his friends Tom Thomson, A.Y. Jackson, and Arthur Lismer, Fred Varley wrote that they were “all working to one big end… emptying ourselves of everything except that nature is here in all its greatness.”

The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson, by Anne Newlands
The Art History Archive, "The Group of Seven."

No comments:

Post a Comment