This Week in History


Canada on Public Display

For the week of Monday May 3, 1999

On May 7, 1920, the Group of Seven opened their first exhibit at the Art Museum of Toronto. This group would eventually include some of the most famous and innovative artists in Canadian history.

Cover of a booklet from their first exhibition

Cover of a booklet from
their first exhibition

© Art Gallery of Ontario

In 1910, most Canadian artists tried to imitate European artistic styles. The results were very dark and dull paintings that did not represent well Canada. A group of friends, most of whom worked at the Grip Commercial Art Company in Toronto, decided to depict Canada so that everyone could understand its beauty. J.E.H. MacDonald, Frank Varley, Arthur Lismer, A.Y. Jackson, Lawren Harris, and Frank Johnston, encouraged by Tom Thomson, started visiting northern Ontario in order to create unique landscape paintings. Thomson drowned in a mysterious accident in Algonquin Park in 1917. Inspired by him, the others  formed the Group of Seven in 1919.

Sunset in the Bush by Frank Johnson

Sunset in the Bush by Frank Johnson
© McMichael Canadian Art Collection

The Group were able to recreate the wide range of colours found in the different Canadian seasons. Traditional critics did not like their work. However, Eric Brown, Director of the National Gallery was impressed with this new Canadian style. He chose the Group's works to represent Canada at the Commonwealth Fair in London in 1924. European critics marvelled at the originality of the artists' styles. The Group soon became quite famous and respected.

Johnston resigned in 1926 and was replaced by A. J. Casson.  Edwin Holgate and Lionel Lemoine Fitzgerald joined later. At one point the Group of Seven had nine members! The artists travelled to all corners of the country, including the far North, in search of new landscapes to paint.  They disbanded in 1933, but their legacy lives on both through their art and through their influence on other Canadian artists.

The Group of Seven are of National Historical Significance for their contributions to Canadian art and are commemorated by a plaque in Kleinburg, Ontario, where several members are buried.  Lawren Harris and Tom Thomson are also honoured with plaques in Vancouver and Canoe Lake, Ontario, respectively.

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