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CELEBRATING THE GROUP OF SEVEN
 
(2021 - Winter Issue)

Writer: MANDY SINCLAIR



As the sun rises, light shimmers off the snow-covered and seemingly endless horizon, with nary a snowflake in sight. In the foreground, the weight of the snow is felt on the delicate branches of jack pine trees, as though the white dusting has been there for days.

Admiring Canadian artist Lawren S. Harris’ Winter (1914) transports me to those wintry days when the heaviness of the season is sensed on the icy landscape, and a certain early-morning frigidness that only mid-winter mornings bring is felt—even before stepping outside. At the same time, the poetic picture is a reminder of Canada’s natural beauty throughout the seasons. There’s a sense of familiarity too in this earthly scene that has us trek, albeit virtually, into the remote corners of Canada, one brushstroke at a time. It is pure, unadulterated Canadiana.

THE GROUP OF SEVEN

Lawren S. Harris shared the love of the country’s natural environment with other like-minded nature lover artists, rubbing shoulders with J.E.H. MacDonald, Arthur Lismer, Frederick H. Varley, Frank Johnston, Franklin Carmichael and A.Y. Jackson, who collectively became known as the Group of Seven. Like Britain’s Fab Four (The Beatles), Canada’s Group of Seven became trailblazers on the arts circuit. Art critics of the day hailed them as the “modernism of the future” with their avant-garde bold splashes of colour that broke from convention.

Through wild woods and rocky outcroppings, stomping on the oldest rock in the world, each artist was seduced by his muse—Canada’s great outdoors.

CANADIAN ICONS

The Group of Seven achieved fame for the unique Canadian landscapes they captured as these adventurous artists ventured into remote, yet now iconic areas including Algonquin Park, Killarney Provincial Park and Baffin Island in the North, often by boxcar and by canoe. On a mission to develop a distinct Canadian artistic style, what emerged was a style that depicts the rugged beauty of the Canadian landscape, influenced by modern art movements (Impressionism, Arts and Crafts, and Art Deco) popular at the time in Europe. 

To help find your love of Canadian landscapes conceived on canvas, here’s a snapshot of galleries and places you can visit for Group of Seven collections.

VISIT THE ORIGINAL EXHIBITION SPACE (1920–1933)

In May 1920 the Art Gallery of Toronto (known today as the Art Gallery of Ontario and AGO) hosted the group’s first official exhibition featuring a collection of 120 paintings. Held over a three-week period, the exhibition attracted over 2,000 visitors, yet only six artworks sold. Today, the AGO has 791 artworks in its permanent collection.

Gallery Highlights

Lawren S. Harris’ Winter Afternoon, City Street, Toronto or Sunday Morning (1918): On a bone-chillingly cold winter day you could relate to the passers by bundled up against the cold.

Arthur Lismer’s Sunlight in a Wood (1930): Sunlight shines onto a mossy forest floor.

A DAY OUT IN KLEINBURG, ONTARIO

Nestled in the Humber River Valley on a 98-hectare forest, you wouldn’t be wrong thinking that this setting sets the mood for a classic Group of Seven workspace. The McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario is the leading venue for the Group of Seven collection and their contemporaries. 

Gallery Highlights

A.Y. Jackson’s Early Spring, Emileville, Quebec (1913): You can almost smell the spring air! Frank Johnston’s Vanishing Winter: Spring is on the way in this spring-thaw scene of a flowing river.

BEYOND THE GALLERY WALLS

The McMichael’s connection to the group extends beyond the gallery walls. Robert and Signe McMichael started their collection when they purchased Lawren S. Harris’ Montreal River (1920) and the exhibition space developed after purchasing some land near Kleinburg. On the grounds, six of the Group of Seven members are laid to rest at the McMichael’s cemetery.

AN ARTIST’S RESIDENCE

Also located on the McMichael gallery grounds is the studio shack of the late Tom Thomson. This renowned artist mysteriously drowned while on a canoe trip in Algonquin Park in 1917 prior to the group’s founding in 1920. While not an official member of the Group of Seven, Thomson is known for his influence within the group. The McMichael Canadian Art Collection has deep ties to the artist with a Tom Thomson exhibition currently on display. A National Historic Site of Canada, the studio can be visited by venturing out on the McMichael’s hiking trails for a winter walk.

EXPLORE THOMSON’S ROOTS

Head to Owen Sound, Ontario and soak in the scenic vistas as you have made it to Tom Thomson country. The town located on the Georgian Bay Inlet is home to the Tom Thomson Gallery. See a rare collection of oil sketches, graphics, and other significant artifacts.  Thomson grew up in nearby Leith in Grey County, which is mired in the type of landscapes he often depicted. Think cascading, plunging waterfalls and rugged, jagged cliffs.

HEAD OUTDOORS INTO THE GROUP OFSEVEN "STUDIOS”

Hit the Tom Thomson Trail 

A three-season multi-use trail, you can hike, cycle and horseback from Owen Sound to Leith along the 43-km Tom Thomson Trail. In Meaford, visit the cemetery at the historic Leith Church, which is considered the final resting place of the late great Tom Thomson, whose tragic death continues to be shrouded in mystery.

Visit Algoma, Ontario

Both Lawren S. Harris and J.E.H. MacDonald depict waterfalls in Algoma: Waterfall, Algoma Canyon, Algoma (1919) by Lawren S. Harris and Algoma Waterfall (1920) by J.E.H. MacDonald. It is not advisable to tour Algoma’s waterfalls in winter. A popular “studio” destination for these artists, discover other outdoor seasonal secrets around Algoma from icy brooks to frozen lakes and dense forests.

Enjoy an App-inspired Drive

Download an app from the Moments of Algoma Group of Seven and prepare to embark on a self-guided driving tour that showcases scenic lookouts and rocky shorelines. In-between all the sprawling Mother Nature, you’ll stumble upon the oldest rock on the planet: the Canadian Shield. Later, stop at the Art Gallery of Algoma, which has a permanent collection by the Group of Seven.

Head to Beautiful British Columbia

Experience a west coast sunset similar to West Coast Sunset, Vancouver (1926) by Frederick Varley, by heading either to Kitsilano or Sunset Beach in Vancouver. For Indigenous scenes depicted in Totem Poles, Kitwanga (1926) by A.Y. Jackson, take a self-guided tour through eight villages near Kitwanga in central B.C., home to some 50 totem poles.

A CAPITAL EXHIBIT

Rising over the Ottawa River, a stone’s throw from the Parliament of Canada is the glass jewel box that houses the National Gallery of Canada. There are over 100 permanent artworks by the group on display.

Gallery Highlights

A.Y. Jackson’s Terre Sauvage (1913): See sporadic pine trees thriving and surviving on the rocky Canadian Shield.

Frederick H. Varley’s Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay (1921): One of Varley’s most famous works was painted after a summer spent at Georgian Bay.

Travel Planner

Art Gallery of Algoma artgalleryofalgoma.com

Art Gallery of Ontario ago.ca

McMichael Canadian Art Collection, A Like Vision: The Group of Seven at 100 exhibition runs until September 6, 2022. The Tom Thomson exhibition is open until spring 2022. mcmichael.com

Moments of Algoma Group of Seven driving tour momentsofalgoma.ca

National Gallery of Canada gallery.ca

Tom Thomson Gallery owensound.ca/en/tomthomson.aspx

Tom Thomson Trail tomthomasontrail.wordpress.com/

Totem Pole Tour: britishcolumbia.com/plan-your-trip/regions-and-towns/northern-bc-and-haida-gwaii/kitwanga

 
 
 
 
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