It’s that time again where we ArtSmart bloggers from around the world write about a specific art topic each interpreting it in our way through our own travels. This month we each get to select an Artistic Movement and for me I’ve taken a festive approach while looking at the The Group of Seven and my top 7 favourite Canadian winter scenes.
At this time of year when the snow is threatening to fall I look forward to the nights when it will. Since snow is on my mind but not yet on the ground I look to the artists that have depicted the Canadian landscape and are icons within the culture. The Group of Seven was a group of landscape painters looking to develop a distinctly Canadian art movement separate from the European homeland and their American counterparts to the south. The Canadian painters were on a mission to draw from the unique Canadian landscape in developing this relatively new nation’s art scene. Wether they were successful or not is still argued but their iconography is engrained within the Canadian culture.
The original Group of Seven, which began in 1920, consisted of 7 artists which will be listed below, however Tom Thompson, who is often mistaken as being an official member, died before the formation but is accredited for developing their initial representations of Canada. Tom Thompson’s Jack Pine and The West Wind is most often attributed to being the embodiment of the Group of Seven’s Canadian landscape depictions due to the singular tree in the foreground trope and the layers of scenery, such as a body of water and mountains, in the background. Another unofficial member of the Group of Seven is British Columbian painter Emily Carr who was close friends with official member Lawren Harris. Carr, during her early career, struggled with technique and subject matter much like the Group of Seven did but she diverged from them by mostly depicting the disappearing First Nations cultures (another broad and complicated topic). However, I will focus on the original 7 members of the Group of Seven exploring how they depicted the Canadian winter landscape.
1. Franklin Carmichael (1890-1945)
Carmichael grew up in Ontario and mostly depicted landscapes of his home province. This particular word, Snow Clouds (1927) is a completed watercolour that, like most of the paintings in this list, deals with a rough and rugged terrain as well as an approaching snow storm in what I would suspect to be Ontario. While the older painters of Canada at this time, as well as the mainstream audience, were appreciating academic art the Group of Seven were looking to elevate Canadian landscape art. Let me make clear that they weren’t looking to beautify the landscape as the Romanticists did by creating beautiful and picturesque images, but instead the Group of Seven wanted to depict a realistic Canadian landscape. They simply wanted to articulate it differently. At the time they were aware of the Impressionists and Fauvists which I feel you can see reflected within their artwork. This is one of the reasons that the Group of Seven’s success in developing a different way of painting from the Academic European system is contested. Did they really develop a new way of seeing when their work and techniques tend to resemble those already in use in Europe?
2. Frank Johnston (1888-1949)
This Toronto born artist tended to paint with fast drying Tempera paint unlike the other Group of Seven members who tended to use watercolour. He, like many of the original members of the Group of Seven, worked at a commercial art firm called Grip Ltd. During his brief time with the Group, he had left Toronto to move to Winnipeg to teach in 1921, he was experimental with his application of paint similar to the Impressionists and Fauvists. However, later on in his career he began depicting more realistic and decorative landscape scenes which enabled him to make a living off of his work.
3. A.Y. Jackson (1882-1974)
Jackson is the only original member to have been born in Quebec which is why Quebec locations appear within his work more so than anyone else. His work is most recognized by his outlines and sweeping strokes of paint across the canvas. His favourite topics within Quebec were the little villages and the contrast between the rolling hills and man made structures and roads. He painted en plain air even in the Quebec winter where he’d have to sketch fast or else risk his paints becoming too thick to work with. He would then bring his sketches back to his workshop and create a canvas if he deemed it worthy. Before joining the Group of Seven Jackson had studied in France with Impressionist Jean-Paul Laurens. Within this particular work you can see the influence of Impressionism and his use of light.
4. Lawren Harris (1885-1970)
Lawren Harris’s work is distinctly different than those of his members. When I first saw his paintings of the great white north I had thought it was done by a Surrealist painter. The north would be a main topic of interest for Harris as he became a practicing member of Theosophy that privileged the white north as pure and pyramid shapes. He ventured out west, where he met Emily Carr, to see the Rockies. With his passion for Theosophy he eventually started painting abstract pieces.
5. Arthur Lismer (1885-1969)
Born in England Lismer emigrated to Toronto in 1911 where also began work at Grip. In 1916 he had taken a job in Halifax and captured many war ships coming in and out of the harbour as well as painting works about the Halifax explosion in 1917. Lismer’s work is influenced by Impressionism and Barbizon however in this particular piece shows his progression while painting British Columbia. While his earlier work did show an appreciation for Impressionism he later became attracted to more geometrical and angular shapes within his work which reflected the rugged landscape of Canada.
6. J.E.H. MacDonald (1873-1932)
MacDonald was the oldest of the Group of Seven and was considered the force that kept them together. After his death in 1932 the Group, thought to be progressive and radical for its time, separated. Each member went on to elaborate their body of work evolving in style and technique. Some straying from landscape completely and veering into the abstract.
MacDonald’s piece above is very impressionistic with the brushstrokes and use of the light of the moon showcasing the reflective qualities of the snow. Notice how the snow isn’t white but shades of yellow, gold and blue much like the sky.
7. F.H. Varley
One of the most fascinating characters from the Group of Seven is Varley. A war artist during World War I he was severely effected by the death and carnage which is embodied within his painting called For What?, 1917-1919 where the dead soldiers appear to be consumed by the muddy landscape. After returning from the war he reflected his emotional response from the war upon the Canadian landscape painting baron scenes or burnt forests. His technique is also very difficult to pin down as he often changed from work to work and dependent upon the subject matter.
The Group of Seven all had one goal and that was to develop a Canadian way of seeing their rugged landscape. They wanted to distance themselves from the European perspectives and not depict the young nation’s landscape through the eyes of the colonizers but rather through the eyes of a new country. Each of the original members had very different styles and goals in mind represented through the subject matter they chose. But together they have created a iconic images that, wether we realize it or not, are engrained within each Canadian’s visual vocabulary.
Erin from A Sense of Place wrote: The Bauhaus School
Christina from Day Dream Tourist wrote: Spanish Baroque
Ashley from No Onions Extra Pickles wrote: My Futurist Milan
Jenna from This is my Happiness wrote: Arts & Crafts Movement in the U.S.
Welcome to our newest member Alexandra from ArtTrav who wrote: A brief history of art for visitors to Tuscany