Photographic book

Canadian art in the 1920s - 1930s


Group of Seven
Group of Seven

Participation in World War I (1914-1918) gave Canada a new sense of national identity and rapidly brought the country into the 20th century. Already important, landscape painting now gained additional momentum, largely from the success of Tom Thomson and his fellow painters, the Group of Seven. Thomson’s bold compositions appear almost abstract in their use of vivid color and expressive brushwork, as well as in their arrangement of trees and other landscape elements into flat patterns.

The Group of Seven formed in 1920, three years after Thomson’s death, and set out to establish a national school of painting that would express Canadian identity and the character of the Canadian land. The members of the group were Toronto-based painters J. E. H. MacDonald, Fred Varley, A. Y. Jackson, Lawren Harris, Arthur Lismer, Frank Johnston, and Franklin Carmichael. Their mission received support from the National Gallery of Canada, which purchased and exhibited their work, thus weakening the influence of more conservative painters of the Royal Canadian Academy.

The majority of the paintings by the Group of Seven represented the wilderness of northern Ontario, which became the visual symbol of Canadian national identity. By the late 1920s and 1930s, however, individual members of the group worked in the Arctic and the west as well as in Québec and Nova Scotia. The group’s interest in depicting an unapproachable and uninhabited nature—despite the fact that Canada was now an urban, industrialized country—developed in reaction to a popular preference for European-inspired romantic images of a tamed Canadian landscape.

The Group of Seven’s visual vocabulary consisted primarily of wind-swept trees, rocky shores, and weathered underbrush—subjects that were considered daring at the time, although they later became national symbols.

The painters used large, flattened, and outlined forms and decorative color that made an immediate impact and gave their work great visual appeal. Several of the artists were British born and trained, and the group as a whole was influenced by late postimpressionismDespite these European influences, the group was more concerned with promoting a vision of Canada and a sense of nationalism than with investigating aesthetic issues. Through their portrayal of the rugged northern landscape, the Group of Seven changed the image of the artist in Canada from that of a proper Victorian gentleman to one of a man in a canoe. As a result, Canadian art and the Canadian artist gained a new independence from tradition. This new independence was perhaps the group’s most important legacy. "Canada" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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