Last week, I talked about the reasons for the collaboration of artists. One famous collaboration in the Canadian art history is the “Group of Seven”.
Before I came to Canada, I had never heard of the “Group of Seven” which is not very well-known outside of Canada but very important for the development of the Canadian art scene. They are considered leaders of the first major Canadian art movement.
The art scene in Canada in the early 20th century was heavily influenced by the European art culture. However, the “Group of Seven” members wanted to show the beauty of the Canadian landscape by celebrating its wilderness. They wanted to create a truly Canadian style which they believed could only be achieved by getting out of the studio and into nature. The Group of Seven is most famous for its many plein air sketches which were often used in the studio to create bigger paintings. In many cases their sketches have so much more energy than the paintings, and capture the spontaneity of the moment.
The roots for the group can be found at the design firm Grip Ltd. in Toronto where Tom Thomson, Frederick Horsman Varley, Frank (Franz, Francis Hans) Johnston, Edward Hervey MacDonald, Arthur Lismer, and Franklin Carmichael worked. In 1913, Alexander Young Jackson and Lawren Stewart Harris joined the group. The informal group temporarily split up during World War I during which Jackson and Varley worked as official war artists.
When the “Group of Seven” was finally founded in Toronto in 1920 for their first exhibition together, Thomson had already died. His untimely death by drowning in Algonquin Park in 1917 is still an incident of many speculations. However, his name is still closely linked to the group because of the influence his painting style, visible in the many sketches and finished canvases, had on his fellow artists. He had achieved a painting style which truly captured the Canadian landscape.
Alfred Joseph Casson joined the group in 1926 replacing Frank Johnston who resigned after the first exhibition. In 1930 Edwin H. Holgate from Montreal joined the group, followed by Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald from Winnipeg in 1932.
Aside from Thomson, Emily Carr was also closely associated with the Group of Seven. She met members for the first time at the National Gallery in 1927. She and Lawren Harris developed a close relationship in which Harris supported and influenced her the most. The encounter ended Carr’s artistic isolation and inspired her to the creation of many of her most famous works.
The Group of Seven increased the awareness and appreciation of the Canadian landscape.
Their use of bright colours and bold patterning was inspired by the Post-Impressionists Van Gogh and Gauguin as well as by the contemporary Scandinavian art which MacDonald and Harris saw for the first time in 1912 at an exhibition in Buffalo.
After the Group of Seven's final show in 1931, the members realized that the art community’s opinion had shifted in favour of their art, making the security net of the group unnecessary to withstand criticism.
To the contrary, with the help of influential friends and supporters including the National Gallery, the group had reached a celebrity status. This led to accusations that the National Gallery of Canada favoured their members’ works and therefore assisted them to be the only Canadian artists to receive recognition. As a result of this controversy, the Canadian Group of Painters was founded in February 1933 and included some of the Group of Seven members.
I saw pieces of the Group of Seven for the first time during my very first visit to Canada in 1994 when my husband brought me to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario. At this point, I had stopped painting at all due to a very demanding career. However, once we moved to Canada, the Canadian landscape has also captured my interest, and I have been back to Kleinburg many times admiring the works of these great artists. I have also taken some workshops exploring some of the artists and their painting style which only has increased my admiration. Even though, I do appreciate some more than others, I found that I learned something from all of them.
I hope you enjoyed this journey into the Canadian art history. If you would like to learn more about Frederick Varley, one of the founding members of the “Group of Seven”, I invite you to my new four week mini session “Painting Like Famous Artists". It will be held at François Dupuis Recreation Centre in Orleans, and starts April 7, 2015. The other artists we will study are Frida Kahlo, Salvador Dali, and Vincent Van Gogh.
"Painting Like Famous Artists" would also make a wonderful activity for a private get-together or a child's birthdays party. Please contact me for details and rates at kpeters@DomingoInformatics.ca.