The Group of Seven

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Reader Wanda requested a post on the Group of Seven, a group of Canadian painters who are most well-known for their landscapes.

The group members often painted together, both in their Studio Building and on excursions into the wilderness. They didn't call themselves the Group of Seven until 1919, and they didn't hold their first exhibition until 1920, but they got their inspiration in January 1913. After seeing an exhibition of Scandinavian art, Lawren Harris and J.E.H. MacDonald were impressed with the depictions of northern light and landscapes, and thought, "This is what we want to do to Canada." Although the group originally had seven members, it later grew to nine, with the loss of one member (Frank Johnston) and the addition of three more (A.J. Casson, Edwin Holgate, and LeMoine Fitzgerald).

A brief run-down on the original members:

1. Lawren Harris (1885-1970)

Lawren Harris was perhaps one of the most independent members of the group, in large part because he was financially stable. He was a co-financer of the group's Studio Building, and he never needed to work as a teacher to help support himself. He was also the only member to turn to abstract painting. During the 1920s, he stopped signing and dating his work, as he wanted it judged on artistic merit, not by the artist or the date. In 1934, Harris caused a scandal when he left his wife of 24 years to marry Bess Housser, the wife of his friend, a fellow artist.
Shown is Harris' "Lighthouse, Father Point" (1930). To see more of Harris' work, check out his galleries at Art in the Picture and Museum Syndicate.

2. J.E.H. MacDonald (1873-1932)

2-MacDonald.jpg While the whole Group of Seven was often targeted by critics and Canadian art academics (they were derided as the "Hot Mush School"), J.E.H. MacDonald was frequently singled out for criticism. His painting "The Tangled Garden" is similar to some works by Vincent van Gogh, yet one reviewer trashed it as "an incoherent mass of color." Like the other members of the group, MacDonald travelled to Algoma to paint, but unlike the others, MacDonald went in a specially outfitted train car that functioned as a mobile studio.
Shown is MacDonald's "The Tangled Garden" (1916). To see more of MacDonald's work, check out his galleries on Art in the Picture and Museum Syndicate, as well as this book he decorated.

3. A.Y. Jackson (1882-1974)

3-Jackson.jpg Trips to Europe are common for artists, especially landscape artists, but A.Y. Jackson made his European trip in a slightly different manner than most: he worked his way there and back on a cattle boat. Jackson began working for a living at the young age of 12, with a job at a lithography company. About 10 years after his trip to Europe, Jackson enlisted in the Canadian Army. Unfortunately, he was wounded shortly after reaching the front. He was transferred to the Canadian War Records branch to work as an artist; he also worked for the Canadian War Memorials.
Shown is Jackson's "Lake" (1913). For more of Jackson's work, check out his collection in the National Gallery of Canada.

4. Arthur Lismer (1885-1969)

4-Lismer.jpg Arthur Lismer is the man behind the incredibly brilliant name of the group. Apparently, they hadn't come up with any other suitable name, so Lismer just counted them up and named them the Group of Seven. Lismer, who was apprenticed to a photo-engraving company at age 13, was a strong believer in the importance of a child's imaginative growth and self-expression. In 1933, he founded the Children's Art Centre at the Art Gallery of Toronto; he founded one at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1946.
Shown is Lismer's "Georgian Bay, Spring" (1917). For more of Lismer's work, check out his galleries on Art in the Picture and Museum Syndicate.

5. Frederick Varley (1881-1969)

5-Varley.jpg Serving in World War I, Frederick Varley was deeply disturbed by the scenes he witnessed. He later stated, "We'd be healthier to forget [the war], and that we never can. We are forever tainted with its abortiveness and its cruel drama." Varley was later one of the artists to travel to the Soviet Union in 1954 in "the first cultural exchange of the Cold War." As an instructor, he encouraged his students to "think for themselves without fear."
Shown is Varley's "Staithes, Yorkshire" (1901). For more of Varley's work, check out his collection at the National Gallery of Canada and this video on Varley.

6. Frank "Franz" Johnston (1888-1949)

6-Johnston.jpg Frank Johnston worked at Grip Ltd. Along with J.E.H. MacDonald, Tom Thomson, Arthur Lismer, and Franklin Carmichael. As a member of the Group of Seven, Johnston exhibited just once, at their very first show in May 1920. Johnston was an extremely productive artist, and he achieved considerable financial success during his lifetime. He announced his official resignation from the group in 1924. Three years later, in 1927, he changed his name from "Frank" to "Franz" (though no source seems to know why).
Shown is Johnston's "The Magic Pool" (1917). For more of Johnston's work, check out his galleries from Art in the Picture, the National Gallery of Canada, and Museum Syndicate.

7. Franklin Carmichael (1890-1945)

7-Carmichael.jpg Franklin Carmichael held the distinction of being the youngest original member of the Group of Seven. As a result of the age difference, though, Carmichael was "on the fringe of the group" and associated more with the later additions to the group. Carmichael had shared space in the Studio Building with Tom Thomson, who probably would have been a founding member if not for his untimely death. Carmichael stated his artistic philosophy thusly: "It is imperative that the artist reveal through the medium in which he is happiest, what he sees, thinks and feels about his surroundings."
Shown is Carmichael's "Mirror Lake" (1929). For more of Carmichael's work, check out his galleries from Art in the Picture and Museum Syndicate.

BONUS: Tom Thomson (1877-1917)

8-Thomson.jpg As stated above, Tom Thomson would have been a founding member of the Group of Seven had he not died just two years before their official formation. In 1917, Thomson died while canoeing in Algonquin Park (a popular Group of Seven location). He appeared to have suffered a blow to the head, but showed no signs of drowning; an exact cause of death has not been determined. The circumstances surrounding his death remain mysterious to this day, creating an aura of mystery around the young painter.
Shown is Thomson's "Northern River" (1915). For more of Thomson's work, check out his collections at Art in the Picture and the Tom Thomson Art Gallery.

"Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at feelartagain@gmail.com with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists.

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