The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson

The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson

by David Silcox


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A compact edition of an award-winning best-seller — more affordable than the celebrated original, but otherwise identical.

At a critical time in Canada's history, the Group of Seven revolutionized the country's appreciation of itself by celebrating Canada as a wild and beautiful land. These paintings of the wilderness evoke the same response in viewers today as they did when first exhibited.

The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson includes many never — before reproduced paintings and presents the most complete and extensive collection of these artists' works ever published. The 400 paintings and drawings reveal the remarkable genius of all 10 painters who at some point were part of the movement. Tom Thomson, who died before the Group was established, was always present in the public mind. Included are works by:

  • Frank Carmichael
  • Frank Johnston
  • A.J. Casson
  • Arthur Lismer
  • Le Moine FitzGerald
  • J.E.H. MacDonald
  • Lawren Harris
  • Tom Thomson
  • Edwin Holgate
  • F.H. Varley
  • A.Y. Jackson

The artwork is organized by the various regions of Canada, with additional sections on the war years and still-life paintings. Introductory essays provide a context for a greater understanding and appreciation of Canada's most celebrated artists.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781554078851
Publisher: Firefly Books, Limited
Publication date: 11/08/2011
Pages: 444
Sales rank: 1,194,272
Product dimensions: 8.50(w) x 9.90(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

David P. Silcox, managing director of Sotheby's Canada, is an art historian, a cultural administrator and a senior fellow at Massey College. He is also widely recognized for his writings on the artists David Milne, Christopher Pratt and Jack Bush.

Table of Contents


Icons: Images of Canada
Gardens, Still Lifes, and Portraits
The First World War
Cities, Towns, and Villages
The East Coast
The St Lawrence River and Quebec
Algonquin Park and Georgian Bay
Algoma and Lake Superior
The Prairies, Rockies, and West Coast
The Canadian Arctic

Selected Bibliography
List of Works Reproduced
Gallery Index
General Index


In Canada, everyone grew up with and loved reproductions of paintings by the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson. These painters (all eleven of them!) defined the way Canadians saw their country.

The Group was formed in 1920 and exhibited together only eight times from 1920 to 1931 before they disbanded in 1933. One member dropped out right after the first exhibition; another was added in 1926, another in 1929, and yet another in 1932, but the name, with delightful illogic, remained unchanged. 'The Group had no formal organization,' A.Y. Jackson wrote later, 'and since we had no money we had no need of a treasurer.' They never painted together as a group, and indeed on only two occasions did even four of them paint together. Their main focal points in Toronto were their studios and the Arts and Letters Club, where they regularly had lunch together.

You would think that such an important art movement, which determined the course of
Canadian painting for decades, would have many publications to honour and display their work. But, until now, there has not been a single volume in which a generous selection of work by each member could be seen. Out of 369 colour plates, nearly a third are reproduced here for the first time. They show the wide range of subjects that attracted the Group: landscapes from the Atlantic to the Pacific and Arctic oceans, cities, towns, villages, and farms, people, flowers, and the turmoil of the First World War. This is as large a compendium of these magnificent works as is likely to be published in our time.


Excerpted from the

The Group of Seven was formed one evening in March 1920, at Lawren Harris's elegant mansion, 63 Queen's Park (now Queen's Park Crescent), Toronto, where St Michael's College, University of Toronto, stands today, and next door, but one, to his friend (and co-heir to the Massey-Harris Company) Vincent Massey, then Dean of Residence at Victoria College and already a significant arts patron. The artists present were Harris, J.E.H. MacDonald, Arthur Lismer, F.H. Varley, Frank Carmichael, and Frank Johnston. A.Y. Jackson was away painting in Georgian Bay, but was considered to be present by proxy. The Memorial Exhibition of Paintings by Tom Thomson at the Art Gallery of Toronto had just closed.

No one knows why these seven men were chosen (originally it was going to be nine) from among artists who shared their ambitions and beliefs. Someone decided whom to invite to that historic meeting, and probably Harris, or Harris after conferring with MacDonald, was responsible. Three of the seven were English (if one includes MacDonald, who spent his boyhood there), three were from Ontario, and one was from Montreal. Lawren Stewart Harris (1885-1970) was an heir to his family's farm implement-manufacturing company, Massey-Harris. He was born in Brantford, Ontario, and moved to Toronto at the age of nine, when his father died. After attending the University of Toronto briefly, he went to study art in Berlin. He had already painted extensively around Toronto, in the Laurentians, Muskoka, Haliburton, Algonquin Park, and Algoma, and elsewhere. The Studio Building, built for himself and his artist friends in 1913-14, was but one of hispractical contributions to their serious purpose. Harris served in the army during the First World War. Unlike the others, he had only a brief experience as a commercial artist, having neither the interest nor the need to become one.

Harris was certainly a key instigator of the Group, although it did not have a leader, per se. "The Group had no formal organization," Jackson wrote later. "We had no officers, and as we had no money we did not need a treasurer." But it was Harris who always had the energy and means to take initiatives. When Harris moved to the United States in 1934 (to side-step the stigma of a divorce), Jackson wrote that "we were bereft ... he provided the stimulus; it was he who encouraged us always to take the bolder course, to find new trails."

James Edward Hervey MacDonald (1873-1932), usually called 'Jim' by his colleagues, was born in Durham, England. His Canadian father brought his family back to Canada when MacDonald was fourteen. After his commercial art training and apprenticeship in Canada, he returned to England from 1901 to 1903. By the time he met Harris in 1911, MacDonald was a leading commercial artist in Toronto, an excellent writer, and a poet. He was a keen admirer and follower of the transcendental American writers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, after whom he named his son. When Harris saw MacDonald's paintings at a little exhibition at Toronto's Arts and Letters Club, he thought that he had finally discovered the work of someone who saw Canada in an original and truthful way. Harris and MacDonald sketched together frequently after they met and, in January 1913, travelled to Buffalo, New York, to see the Exhibition of Contemporary Scandinavian Art at the Albright Art Gallery. From the way the artists of Finland, Sweden, and Norway (particularly Edvard Munch, J.F. Willumsen, Prince Eugen, and Harald Sohlberg) depicted their countries, Harris and MacDonald were able to give shape and conviction to their then vague feelings about how to paint Canada. MacDonald wrote later: "We felt 'This is what we want to do with Canada.'" The northern light, the patterns of snow, the profiles of conifer trees, and a sense of the mystery embedded in the rawness of nature all touched a nerve for Harris and MacDonald. Certainly the correlation of the landscapes of Canada with those of Scandinavia was greater than with Italy, Holland, or England. The trip to Buffalo, which began in curiosity, profoundly influenced the work of all their artist friends thereafter.

Alexander Young Jackson (1882-1974), usually called 'Alex' by his friends, was born and grew up in Montreal. After working for various lithography firms there and in Chicago, he travelled in France and later studied under Jean-Paul Laurens at the Académie Julian in Paris. He had gone to Toronto in 1913, fed up with Montreal's negative attitudes toward Canadian art and artists, the indifference of its collectors to his own and other artists' work, and a lack of adequate exhibition opportunities. His early painting The Edge of the Maple Wood (p. 187) had enchanted Harris, MacDonald, Tom Thomson, and Arthur Lismer, when they saw it in 1911, and so had his powerful Terre Sauvage of 1913 (p. 381), a canvas developed from his trip to Georgian Bay that spring. He had served as a private in the war, then as a war artist in the Canadian War Memorials program. Although he was technically absent on that historic night, his wry humour and combative nature were as reliable as if he had been there.

Arthur Lismer (1885-1969) was born in Sheffield, England, and received his training there and in Antwerp before emigrating to Canada in 1911. A gifted writer and educator who had early established his own design business in Sheffield, he brought the sense of the pioneer with him to Canada, where he sensed the opportunity for unlimited creation and the possibility of Utopian ideals. By 1920 Lismer had made a considerable mark as a teacher and educator, and his paintings, strongly influenced by Impressionism, had gained wide admiration. He had also contributed major works to the Canadian War Memorials domestic program.

Lismer persuaded his fellow Yorkshireman, Frederick Horsman Varley (1881-1969), to come to Canada in 1912. Varley had made a promising start as an artist after two years at art school in Antwerp, and then faced a lack of opportunity to advance quickly in England. Toronto, as a hub of activity for commercial design and printing, could easily absorb men with a talent for drawing and illustrating. Varley was, in some ways, always the odd man out among the Group members. His one emblematic landscape painting, Squally Weather, Georgian Bay (p. 4). was, in truth, not typical of Varley's own spiritual quest, which took him along a path, travelled by none of his Group associates, to paint mostly people and landscapes in a different key altogether. By the time the Group was formed, Varley was a leading portrait painter whose War Memorial work had also been much admired.

Franklin Carmichael (1890-1945) was the youngest of those present at the Group's founding meeting. Born in Orillia, Ontario, and trained in his father's carriage business, he started work as a commercial artist with Rous and Mann in Toronto in 1911, and studied art formally in Antwerp in 1913 (following in the footsteps of Lismer and Varley). He shared a studio with Tom Thomson upon his return in 1914, his study plans curtailed by the war. He was known to the others through his clever work as a commercial artist, as an enthusiastic weekend painter, and as another potential transcendentalist in his views on art and the spirit.

And finally, Francis Hans Johnston (1888-1949), known as Frank but soon to change his name to Franz, was a Torontonian, a gifted and versatile artist whose ability to work quickly and to create attractive designs was much admired. He had served briefly in the Canadian War Memorials program at home, with startling and large paintings of airplanes. He would leave the Group shortly after the initial exhibition to head the School of Art in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Soon he was highly critical of the Group and against most 'modern' art in any form. He organized exhibitions of his work, two or three hundred canvases at a time, at commercial venues like department stores and, unlike his colleagues, sold extremely well, a point that irked Jackson and others who believed that he had sold out by casting aside the desire to develop a strong and vibrant aesthetic.

Missing from the gathering, and much missed, was Tom Thomson (Thomas John Thomson, 1877-1917), who would have been, with MacDonald, one of the two eldest members. His was certainly the unseen presence. Like all the others (except Harris), Thomson had been a commercial artist and had joined their weekend sketching trips. In about 1911-12 he had become more ambitious about his painting and had emerged as a major talent. His attachment to the lakes, rocks, and forests of Algonquin Park, where he went for the first time in 1912, was infectious, and soon he and his friends were camping and travelling throughout Algonquin. In Toronto, Thomson shared a room in the Studio Building with Jackson and then Carmichael before settling into his own less expensive studio in a shack behind it. Thomson had been the inspiration of all the artists gathered at Harris's before his untimely drowning in Canoe Lake, Algonquin Park, only thirty-two months earlier. Later, in The Story of the Group of Seven, Harris wrote of him:

I have, in my story of the Group, included Tom Thomson as a working member, although the name of the group did not originate until after his death. Tom Thomson was, nevertheless, as vital to the movement, as much a part of its formation and development, as any other member.

Thomson learned an enormous amount from Harris and MacDonald and Jackson, and then they learned an enormous amount from him -- a classic case of the student becoming the teacher. The artist David Milne offered his assessment of Thomson in a letter to H.O. McCurry of the National Gallery of Canada in 1930, shortly before the Group announced its dissolution: "Your Canadian art apparently, for now at least, went down in Canoe Lake. Tom Thomson still stands as the Canadian painter, harsh, brilliant, brittle, uncouth, not only most Canadian but most creative. How the few things of his stick in one's mind."

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The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
presto on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
With about fifty pages of well written and informative introduction about the group and their painting, this is essentially a catalogue of the artists¿ work. It concludes with a chronology and a general and artist specific bibliography, and a detailed list of the works included.The paintings are reproduced sometimes two to a page and frequently one to a page and total nearly three hundred and seventy in full colour. The standard of reproduction is good and the colours rich and strong, often the quality of the brush work and texture of the paint is apparent. As a result we can truly appreciate the stunning beauty of the work and the rich variety to be found in the artists¿ painting. This is a most enlightening book brimful of gorgeous paintings, if you are not familiar with this group¿s work, as I was not until I acquired this volume, it is bound to win you over.
Autodafe on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The best book on the subject to date. The paintings reproduced in this book are gorgeous.
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