Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven

Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven

Ross King

Language: English

Pages: 504

ISBN: 1553658825

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


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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setting could have been worse: Bellamy also owned a funeral parlour). They were joined by twenty-five works, complete with five sketches by F.M. Bell-Smith and two by Homer Watson, from the collection of William Grayson, a local barrister and landowner. The Moose Jaw Evening Times reported Grayson’s opening address. After speaking about “the various European schools of art,” he discussed “the efforts being made by Canadian painters to break away from the older traditions and the methods of their

Little, “Some Recollections of Tom Thomson and Canoe Lake,” Culture 16 (1955), p. 213. 6. Ottelyn Addison and Elizabeth Harwood, Tom Thomson: The Algonquin Years (Toronto: McGraw-Hill, 1969), p. 13. 7. Quoted in Cole, “Artists, Patrons and Public,” p. 71. The Torontonian was Taylor Statten, the Secretary of Boys’ Work at the Toronto Central YMCA and later the founder of Camp Ahmek. 8. Harry B. Jackson to Blodwen Davies, 29 April 1931, Blodwen Davies Fonds. 9. S.H.F. Kemp, “A

Archives. 14. J. Murray, “Tom Thomson’s Letters,” in Reid, Tom Thomson, p. 297. 15. For some of the logistics of Thomson’s voyage, see Wadland, “Tom Thomson’s Places,” in Reid, Tom Thomson, p. 105; and Hill, “Tom Thomson, Painter,” in Reid, Tom Thomson, p. 126. Wadland suggests that much of the journey was made via steamship and rail, whereas Hill believes that Thomson canoed the entire distance between Go Home Bay, Lake Nipissing and Canoe Lake. 16. Brooke, Letters from America,

Snow v, 307; Snow vi, 307–8 Harris, Trixie, 328, 378 Hart, William S., 326–27 Hart House Theatre, 340, 343–45, 367, 369–70 Hartley, Marsden, 86, 122, 334, 348, 373, 381, 432n29 Hartmann, Sadakichi, 323, 337 Hassam, Childe, 117, 304, 347–48 Hastings, Basil Macdonald, 344 Hausmann, Raoul, 334–35 Hays, Charles Melville, 3 Heeley Art Club, 61–62 Heimatkunstlers, 32 Heming, Arthur, 112–15, 114, 117, 126, 159–60, 169, 223; Spirit Lake, 113 Hémon,

representation Thomson looked farther afield. The painting was created from broken touches of exaggerated (though not non-naturalistic) colour that revealed his continued interest in Divisionism and Fauvism. It is witness to his sheer joy of colour and technique, with sky and water created with broad hyphens of orange and purple applied in brushstrokes of unmixed pigment juxtaposed like the platelets of a mosaic—the same “brick-like rectangles” used by Signac and Cross. The lack of shadows, a

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