Brief History of the Group of Seven
May 7, 1920 was the opening of the first exhibition of the Group of Seven, held at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the Art Gallery of Ontario) . The newly formed group of artists were jointly driven to depict the Canadian scene through distinctly Canadian eyes--this developed into our country's first real art movement.
The original seven artists were Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, Arthur Lismer, Franz Johnston, J. E.H. MacDonald, Fred Varley and A. Y. Jackson. (A. J. Casson replaced Franz Johnston in 1926 and L. L. Fitzgerald and Edwin Holgate joined them in their last year ). The group originally thought of calling themselves the "Algonquin School" because of their strong connection to the beauty and wilderness of Algonquin Park, an area introduced to the core members of the group through Tom Thomson.
As all great expressive movements, it was met with controversy and criticism which in turn gave birth to promotion of that movement. One article which propelled the controversy, thereby exposing the group's artwork, was written by art critic H. F. Gadsby who dubbed the painters "The Hot Mush School" in reference to the texture of the paint used which reminded the author of gobs of porridge.
Many of the art critics were favourably disposed to the paintings by the Group of Seven and complimented their choices of colour and subject matter.
The excitement created by these Canadian visionaries spread to distant regions as well. Featured at the 1924 Wembley Exhibition in England were many of the world's best artists, including several paintings by the Canadian Group of Seven. Some of the glowing tributes paid to the Canadian section of fine arts at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley were gathered into a booklet by the trustees of the National Gallery at Ottawa.
The critic of the Morning Post is quoted as follows:
"The most personal work from the dominions is to be found in the Canadian Galleries. Australia, New Zealand, South Africa are in the main content to follow the ideas and methods of the Mother Country artists. Not so Canada, in landscape at any rate. The paintings of that remarkable personality, the late Mr. Tom Thomson, and of men such as Mr. Alexander Young Jackson, Mr. Clarence Gagnon, Mr. Alfred J. Casson, Mr. Graham Norwell, Mr. J.E.H. MacDonald, Mr. Alfred Lismer, and the late Mr. J.W. Morrice, are the foundation of what may become one of the greatest schools of landscape painting. In their pictures are signs of new vision and feeling for the physical and spiritual significance of nature in both its static and dynamic moods,"
C. Lewis Hind, writing in the Daily Chronicle, said:
"It all came back to me again when I stood in the Canadian section of the Fine Arts Palace at Wembley, because during my visit to Canada I had spent many hours, surprised and delighted, before the landscapes that the Canadian artists were painting, wondering when we should gee them in London. Here they are at this amazing Wembley--their bold, decorative landscapes, emphasising colour, line, and pattern, giving the very look and feel of Canada, its colour and character, young artist painting a young country superbly, through their temperaments, not literally--the subtleties of its winter snow, the roar of its weather, the glory of its autumn colour, contained in the kind of decorative patterns that the younger artists of France are pursuing. But these Canadians are standing on their own feet, revealing their own country with gay virility..."
The Field was also was duly impressed with Canada's achievement saying:
"Canada, above all other countries, has reason to be proud of her contribution, uniting as she does a pronounced love of nature coupled with a vigorous and a definite technique. She has made no effort to advertise or to play to a gaping gallery. Her rooms in the Palace of Arts, two in number, will make their greatest appeal to artists themselves, presenting as they do works by a landscape group fired with a dashing and sometimes almost reckless technique. Her canvases, especially those by the late Tom Thomson, produced under conditions of hardship and intense study, are real triumphs Canada has arrived. She has a national style, however young, and the time is surely not far distant when we shall purchase Canadian examples for our nation and provincial collections.""
The Group of Seven held their last exhibition together in 1930, and most of the members went on to refine and redefine their own unique styles.
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