The Group of Seven

The Group of Seven has forever changed the face of Canadian art. Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald and Frederick Varley set out to create a distinct Canadian style, and they did. They painted the unique, rugged Canadian landscapes which have come to symbolize the Canadian identity. The Groups love of the real world was genuine and never-ending. They continually derived inspiration from each other. For the Group of Seven the rugged nature of the Canadian landscape needed a bolder, more vigorous painting style and more use of colour. Canada was and is a vibrant and rough country of vast expanses which needed to be presented in a style which conveyed this message. They wanted a new way of painting, a way that would allow them to express the distinctive attributes of Canada. They were trailblazers. The most common subject in their works, a pine silhouetted against the sky, dramatically symbolized man in his battle with the elements. All of their works were impressively beautiful and expressed “the magic of painting”. Harris had a way of formalizing details. MacDonald influenced all with his powerful, shaping imagination. Carmichael was a master of watercolours. Jackson experimented with broken colour, dots and dashes and underpainting. Many of Lismer’s larger paintings lacked conviction and dedication. Varley was the most talented draftsmen in the Group and one of the most spontaneous. Johnston had an extremely high rate of production and used tempera rather than oil paint.

“We in Canada are in different circumstances than the people in the United States. We are in the fringe of the great North and its living whiteness, its loneliness and replenishment… its cleansing rhythms. This north of ours is a source of spiritual flow which we can create through us… an art somewhat different from our southern fellows- an art more spacious, of a greater living quiet, perhaps of a more certain conviction of eternal values” - Lawren Harris.

Lawren Harris is said to have provided the stimulus for the Group of Seven. He was the heir to the Massey-Harris fortune and was very well off. His early works are of “The Ward”, a part of Toronto that was a contrast to where he grew up. He encouraged the others in the Group to take the bolder course and to find new trails. His works have surprisingly simple but dramatic colour schemes. He stressed large, bold forms and movements. He simply recorded effects of light and colour. This helped the public grasp his magnificent visionary and essentially innovative content. Harris was a great formalist. He was on one hand more polished but also more distant, reserved and shy. On the other hand he was capable of being very vulgar. Many of his paintings contained semi-symbolic sexual imagery. He always worked parallel to the canvas.

The prettiness of Carmichael’s work is saved by his attention to bizarre weather conditions. Curtains of light lift the corners of his clouds, often to reveal distant storms or clearing skies. His clouds are not flat. They have a front, side and top. He was the youngest original member of the Group and his artistic talent was evident at an early age. His works show elegance and charm, gentler in feeling than many paintings by other Group of Seven members. He was also a rhythmic, musical painter. It was Carmichael who took a shine to A.J. Casson (a member of the Group later on) and encouraged him to keep painting.

Jackson was gentle and paternal, and he and Harris were regarded as the leaders of the Group. He, along with Varley, was an official war artist. In 1925 he taught at the Ontario Art College in Toronto. He traveled extensively across Canada, and painted many of the country's regions. He is buried onsite at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.

His charm and wit surfaced in drawing. His work was described as “a fire cracker burst of mustard against an intense blue sky”. His paintings are characterized by vivid colour and coarse brushwork. He presented nature as a powerful force which people cannot control. Lismer enjoyed creating clever cartoons of his friends and his enemies. Nothing made him happier than fighting the establishment and all things pretentious. Lismer was strongly committed to teaching. He pioneered the field of children’s art education. He is buried onsite at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.

He handled colour abstractly in bold patches and he modeled the landscape in building blocks. His palette was dark, tough and rich. His colouring was fierier and his style was more elegant than Jackson. He was a great calligrapher and a “designer of consequence”. His friends described him as a quiet, frail redhead with the dreamy way of a poet and philosopher- a “romantic”. He was forever engrossed in a book, when not drawing or painting.

He became more interested in painting human figures but landscapes still captivated him as an artistic subject. He was constantly on the move. He visited many remote areas of the world, including the Arctic and Russia. He was the other official war artist in the Group of Seven. He is buried onsite at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.

He wanted to go his own way for a long time and he left the Group in 1921. He was energetic, ambitious and strong-willed. His works, in tempera, show the viewer the subtle colour relationships. Over the years there is a discernable shift in the style of his art. His early works show a strong decorative interpretation of the landscape, while his later works evoke much greater realism. He is buried onsite at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.

This was actually a project on influential Canadians for civics. But I thought it'd make a good blog. Merci for reading!
Posted on March 2nd, 2009 at 09:30pm


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