Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven

Overview

Beginning in 1912, Defiant Spirits traces the artistic development of Tom Thomson and the future members of the Group of Seven, Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A. Y. Jackson, Franz Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J. E. H. MacDonald, and Frederick Varley, over a dozen years in Canadian history. Working in an eclectic and sometimes controversial blend of modernist styles, they produced what an English critic celebrated in the 1920s as the “most vital group of paintings” of the 20th century. Inspired by Cézanne, Van ...
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Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven

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Overview

Beginning in 1912, Defiant Spirits traces the artistic development of Tom Thomson and the future members of the Group of Seven, Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A. Y. Jackson, Franz Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J. E. H. MacDonald, and Frederick Varley, over a dozen years in Canadian history. Working in an eclectic and sometimes controversial blend of modernist styles, they produced what an English critic celebrated in the 1920s as the “most vital group of paintings” of the 20th century. Inspired by Cézanne, Van Gogh and other modernist artists, they tried to interpret the Ontario landscape in light of the strategies of the international avant-garde. Based after 1914 in the purpose-built Studio Building for Canadian Art, the young artists embarked on what Lawren Harris called “an all-engrossing adventure”: travelling north into the anadian Shield and forging a style of painting appropriate to what they regarded as the unique features of Canada’s northern landscape.

Sumptuously illustrated, rigorously researched and drawn from archival documents and letters, Defiant Spirits constitutes a “group biography,” reconstructing the men’s aspirations, frustrations and achievements. It details not only the lives of Tom Thomson and the members of the Group of Seven but also the political and social history of Canada during a time when art exhibitions were venues for debates about Canadian national identity and cultural worth.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Award-winning art historian King (The Judgment of Paris) recounts the evolution of the Algonquin School in this biography of seven remarkable Canadian artists. On the eve of WWI, a small group of talented painters converged in the art department of the Toronto design firm, Grip Limited. While the firm had introduced the nation to Art Nouveau and metal engraving, its designers had loftier ambitions--to develop an artistic identity for Canada. Head Grip designer J.E.H. MacDonald found kindred spirits in Tom Thomson, Franklin Carmichael, A.Y. Jackson, Franz Johnston, Arthur Lismer, and Frederick Varley. The group's challenge--to capture with "'Canadian' eyes" the harsh landscape of the north on canvas--led to extensive exploration of Algonquin Provincial Park. In 1914, the seven gathered at the purpose-built Studio Building for Canadian Art, where they would hone their skills and their vision, resulting in their first group exhibition at the Art Gallery of Toronto in 1921. After a productive decade and mounting criticism that their work had begun to settle into clichés, the group finally disbanded in 1931. Their paintings reflected what fellow artist Emily Carr called the "naked soul." King's book does an excellent job of exploring the roles of these visionary individuals in the shaping of an artistic cultural identity. With 24 pages of color plates and 43 black and white photos
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From the Publisher
"King's book does an excellent job of exploring the roles of these visionary individuals in the shaping of an artistic cultural identity."&#8212Publishers Weekly

"King’s writing is characterized by clarity, compassion, and humanist intelligence. …we feel we’ve actually met these individuals—the goal of any good biography."—Library Journal

"[Defiant Spirits] is a paradigm shift. With his usual spirited prose and faultless research, King makes internationalists out of the Group of Seven"—Canadian Art

Library Journal
King's (Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling) writing is characterized by clarity, compassion, and humanist intelligence. He brings all these to his comprehensive portrait of the Group of Seven, a collective of modernist painters working in early 20th-century Canada. The artists who made up the group (membership varied over the years) strove for a uniquely Canadian art, rooted in their nation's geography yet with an expressive approach to landscape. Artistically audacious and inspired by the work of avant-garde innovators such as Cézanne, Gauguin, and Picasso, the group had high aspirations, which set them on a collision course with tradition-bound collectors, critics, and most of the public. The personal, political, and aesthetic obstacles they encountered are described here with sympathy, so that we feel we've actually met these individuals—the goal of any good biography. Included are color and black-and-white plates as well as notes. VERDICT While it may lack a detailed scrutiny of working methods or an overarching theory that an art scholar would seek, this book will be of interest to general readers invested in the visual arts of Canada and, more broadly, early 20th-century painting.—Michael Dashkin, Forest Hills, NY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781553658825
  • Publisher: Douglas & McIntyre Ltd.
  • Publication date: 10/11/2011
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 504
  • Sales rank: 810,730
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Ross King is the author of three previous best-selling art history books, including Brunelleschi's Dome, which won the 2001 Book Sense Book of the Year Award for Adult Nonfiction and The Judgment of Paris, winner of the Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction in Canada. He lives in England, near Oxford.
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