This Week in History


Arthur Lismer and Canada’s Artistic Revolution

For the week of  Monday, June 23, 2014

"The past is not behind us. It is within us." 

- Arthur Lismer

On June 27, 1885, founding member of the Group of Seven and great Canadian painter Arthur Lismer was born in Sheffield, England.

Arthur Lismer, Sketch for Minesweepers and Seaplanes
© Canadian War Museum / Beaverbrook Collection of War Art / CWM 19710261-6421
Lismer grew up in what he described as a “humble middle-class family” and graduated from Sheffield School of Art in 1905. Friends often noted his friendliness and keen sense of humour. Throughout his life he travelled the world, attending art conferences, teaching, or simply admiring the local art scenes in Belgium, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. He moved to Canada in 1911 and would devote his life to enriching our national art.

He first lived in Toronto, where he met the men with whom he would eventually form the Group of Seven in 1920. Their unique depiction of the Canadian landscape would help develop a distinct national art form, something Canadian culture had been noticeably lacking for some time. And with that, the first major national art movement had begun.

During the First World War, Lismer moved to Halifax. By 1918, he had provided a new characterization of the conflict working as an official war artist for the Canadian War Records Office. Among the works produced with his unique use of Impressionist and Art Nouveau styles were several sketches related to the Halifax Harbour Explosion of 1917. He continued to teach art but, to his despair, saw the number of students in his classes dwindle severely in wartime.

Arthur Lismer, Olympic with Returned Soldiers
© Canadian War Museum / Beaverbrook Collection of War Art / CWM 19710261-0343

Undeterred, he continued to influence new artists for generations. Later in life, he moved to Montréal where he ran the Children’s Art Centre (1946-67), inspiring youngsters to become artists.

From Group of Seven exhibits to the establishment of national art centres, Arthur Lismer’s contributions to Canadian art and culture today have not been forgotten even after his death on March 23, 1969. Arthur Lismer was designated a person of national historic significance in 1974.

To learn more about Canadian art and the Group of Seven, read Canada on Public Display, The Legend of Tom Thomson, Lawren S. Harris and His Original Landscapes, Farewell to Famed International Painter Lawren S. Harris, A.J. Casson: the Youngest of the Group of Seven, and Catastrophe in Halifax in the This Week in History archives.

This year is the first in the centennial of the First World War. For more information on Canada’s official war art programs, see the Canadian War Museum’s Canada’s War Art and Official War Art Collection page.

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