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The Group of Seven Collage

The Group of Seven

Started: 1911
Ended: 1932
The Group of Seven Timeline
"Art is long. Life is short. A picture can become for us a highway between a particular thing and a universal feeling."
1 of 13
Lawren Harris
"I want to paint sunshine and burning golden leaves and blue waters, and laughing faces."
2 of 13
Frederick Varley
"A landscape clean and crisp in form and colour, rich in inspiration is all that an artist could wish for, begging to be used, and full of inherent possibilities."
3 of 13
Franklin Carmichael
"No man can roam or inhabit the Canadian North without it affecting him, and the artist, because of his constant habit of awareness and his discipline in expression, is perhaps more understanding of its moods and spirit than others are."
4 of 13
Lawren Harris
"Schools and 'isms' do not trouble us, individual expression is our chief concern."
5 of 13
A.Y. Jackson
"Every work of art which really moves us is in some degree a revelation: it changes us."
6 of 13
Lawren Harris
"Inside each one of us is an artist...And that's what an artist is, a child who has never lost the gift of looking at life with curiosity and wonder. Art is not the exclusive possession of those who can draw, write poems, make music, or design buildings. It belongs to all those who can see their way through all things with imagination."
7 of 13
Arthur Lismer
"Art is the beginning of vision into the realm of eternal life."
8 of 13
Lawren Harris
"Art must take to the road and risk all for the glory of adventure."
9 of 13
Lawren Harris
"Mind alone remains stable, and watches the chaos of phenomena, and knows that there is a plastic unity of existence - a changeless harmony - behind the everchanging."
10 of 13
Lawren Harris
"It is imperative that the artist reveal through the medium in which he is happiest, what he sees, thinks and feels about his surroundings."
11 of 13
Franklin Carmichael
"Artist awake or be forever fallen."
12 of 13
Frederick Varley
"The obedient in art are always the forgotten...The country is glorious but its beauties are unknown, and but waiting for a real live artist to splash them onto canvas...Chop your own path. Get off the car track."
13 of 13
A. Y. Jackson

Summary of The Group of Seven

The Group of Seven (sometimes referred to as the Algonquin School) was Canada's first internationally recognized art movement. The Group was united in the belief that a distinct Canadian art could be developed through direct contact with the country's vast and unique landscape. Though one can trace the influences of Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Naturalism and Art Nouveau in their painting, stylistically the Group was rather loose-knit and was linked rather through a shared commitment to exploring the rugged Canadian wilderness and to establishing a credible national school.

Key Ideas & Accomplishments

  • Farmers and industrialists, many of whom were recently arrived in the country, were intent on taming and/or beautifying the Canadian wilderness. The Group of Seven sought rather to preserve (through their art) their country's unspoiled terrain. They harnessed the new patriotic spirit amongst Canadians and in so doing vanquished the prevailing attitude that all things European were culturally superior to their North American imitators.
  • In terms of a unified technique, the Group of Seven was a somewhat uneven mix. They shared, however, in the belief (learned from their Scandinavian counterparts) that the artist's personal feelings towards their natural surrounding should determine the style of the painting. The different approaches of each artist also mirrored the span and variety of the Canadian landscape.
  • Arguably the most important member of the Group, Tom Thompson, died before the official naming of the Group of Seven. A man at one with his land, it was he, and his friend J. E. H. MacDonald, who did most to realize the dream of forming a national school of art that would celebrate, what was for Thompson, Canada's most spectacular and precious natural resource.
  • The name "Group of Seven" was in fact something of a misnomer. During its lifespan, the Group exerted a great influence over other domestic artists and it would accommodate the work of a total of eleven Canadian artists. One might even add a twelfth name if one includes Emily Carr, one of Canada's most important modern artists. Carr attributed her artistic renaissance to her discovery of the Group of Seven. Indeed, her later career (forward of 1930) saw her specialize in Canadian native culture and the British Columbian rainforest.

Overview of The Group of Seven

Franklin Carmichael <i>A Muskoka Road</i> (1915) - McMichael Canadian Art Collection

"No man can roam or inhabit the Canadian North without it affecting him" declared artist and group leader Lawren Harris. "Because of his constant habit of awareness and his discipline in expression", he added, the Canadian artist was "more understanding of its moods and spirit than others are".

Important Art and Artists of The Group of Seven

Red Maple (1914)

Artist: A.Y. Jackson

Born in 1882 in Montreal, Jackson left school at the age of twelve to begin work at a local printing firm. In 1906, he became a student at the Art Institute in Chicago before, a year later, enrolling at the Académie Julian Jackson in Paris. While in France he also met with plein air painters at the Étaples art colony, but, having returned home in 1912, he was so discouraged by the reception his work, he considered relocating to the United States. His fortunes turned around when J.E.H. MacDonald and Lawren Harris invited Jackson to Toronto. Having found his kindred spirits in Toronto, the patron James MacCallum offered to buy sufficient numbers of Jackson's paintings to guarantee him a year's income. Jackson became especially close to Tom Thomson and the two shared a studio, often fishing and sketching together in Algonquin Park. Jackson's landscapes, which eschewed conventional composition by extending the image to the edges of the canvas, often featured views of water seen through trees and this became a favourite subject amongst the Group.

In this dense, rhythmic image, Jackson depicts a typical autumnal scene - leaves seen hanging precariously to young branches - from Canada's Algonquin Park and the stirring rapids of the Oxtongue River. The vivid impasto red leaves seem to hover in contrast to the sinuous dark blues, and foaming white, of the water. Jackson's painting owes much to Japanese print-influenced Impressionism, the symbolist landscapes of Scandinavian painters, and the vibrating, expressionistic line of Edvard Munch. When Thomson first saw Jackson's painting at a 1913 Ontario Society of Artists exhibition, he said it opened his eyes to the possibilities of the Canadian landscape.

The Supply Boat (1915-16)

Artist: J.E.H. MacDonald

Born in Durham (England) to a Canadian father and English mother, MacDonald emigrated to Canada in 1887. He studied at the Hamilton Art School and the Central Ontario School of Art and Design, in Toronto. He began professional life as a commercial artist at the Grip Ltd. design studio where Harris persuaded him to start painting full time.

In this work, a steamboat "chugs" past a number of rowing boats, in a stylised, Oriental-like, landscape. The steam of the boat echoes the clouds and the curves of the trees which lock together like jigsaw pieces with the deep blue sky. MacDonald's commercial training is clearly visible in an image in which the graphic lines, unusual low viewpoint, and vivid blocks of colour are strongly reminiscent of Japanese prints. His treatment of the landscape reveals a further European influence in its debt to the symbolic elements of the post-Impressionists, most notably, Van Gogh and Gauguin.

MacDonald was especially revered by his colleagues as a "wonderful poetic soul, full of humour and patience". His 1911 exhibition at the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto so impressed Harris that he asked if they could work together. In January 1913, the two men attended an Exhibition of Contemporary Scandinavian Art and saw post-Impressionist and Expressionist landscape paintings by Gustaf Fjaestad and Vilhelm Hammershøi. The two men were agreed that the Scandinavian approach could offer the inspiration on which to style a different landscape art and Macdonald's former colleagues at Grip would share in this future vision for a uniquely Canadian art. MacDonald was also a writer and a volume of his poetry, West by East, was published posthumously.

The Jack Pine (1916-17)

Artist: Tom Thomson

Born near Claremont, Ontario, Thomson, spent his youth exploring his natural surroundings, growing into an expert forester and canoeist. Spending most of his time at Algonquin Park, where he worked as a wilderness guide, Thomson spent his downtime painting the environment to which he had become so devoted. Having discovered new clearings ad vistas, he could disappear for days at a time to produce preparatory sketches.

The Jack Pine is probably his finest and most famous painting. He endows the lone Jack Pine tree, Canada's most broadly distributed pine, with a sentinel-like, mystical quality. The tree - outlined in red and silhouetted against a serene sunset - both bisects and connects the horizontal elements of sky, curving hills, lake and foreground. Bold, horizontal bricks of green, purple and pink decoratively describe the evening sky. Lismer described The Jack Pine as a symphony in which "[all] the instruments are playing a part, and none is out of harmony with the whole". The painting has come to symbolise Canada's hardy national identity as the tree grasps the solid rock for survival against the biting winter wind. As art critic David P. Silcox put it, the painting was one of "a galvanizing set of icons that largely define the Canadian visual identity".

Thomson's influence on the Group of Seven was crucial, both in the manner in which he celebrated the wonders of nature, and in the way he brought his environment to life through sweeping, expressive brushwork. As Harris noted, Thomson was "a part of the movement before we pinned a label on it". While working in Algonquin Park during, and soon after completing The Jack Pine, Thomson disappeared in mysterious circumstances during a canoeing trip (in July 1917). The discovery of his body a week later devastated the Group. Jackson said of the tragedy that "Without Tom, the north country seems a desolation of bush and rock [...] He was the guide, the interpreter, and we the guests, partaking of his hospitality so generously given". Despite his vital contribution, Thomson never saw the official birth of the Group of Seven.

Useful Resources on The Group of Seven

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Content compiled and written by Robert Weinberg

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"The Group of Seven Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Robert Weinberg
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 01 Feb 2021. Updated and modified regularly
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