Living in the Canadian province of Alberta, the Rocky mountains have always been nearby and not an infrequent subject for my art (although not nearly as much as I would like). In this 2-part blog post I will share my take on mountains as subjects for landscape paintings.
All of the works in this “Part 1” were painted in August 2009 when I spent a week at the Banff Centre.
In 2009, I painted a series inspired by a train trip from Toronto to Edmonton in December of 2008. The first day and a half of the trip covered southern and northern (northwest) Ontario (actually not very far north in terms of Canada’s geography but feeling very far removed compared to the Toronto region). I took many photos of the rugged terrain of the Canadian Shield to use as reference images for paintings. As a series this is one of my personal favorites. Here are the key works:
“Evening from the Canadian”, oil on canvas, 61 by 122 cm (24×48″), 2009
While recently in Vancouver I did what I try to do every time that I make it to that city – visit the Vancouver Art Gallery and very specifically to visit their collection of Emily Carr paintings. The Vancouver Art Gallery occupies a wonderful old building in downtown Vancouver with the top floor gallery devoted to Emily Carr. There are however 3 other floors, exhibiting other shows and what ever I can see there is just a bonus for me. See my previous post about what I saw on the Emily Carr floor on this visit.
Perhaps the highlight for me on this visit was the exhibition “Jock Macdonald: Evolving Forms“. I must admit that before I got there, I’d heard there was an exhibit of work by the Canadian painter J. MacDonald and I just assumed it was J.E.H MacDonald, one of my favorite painters from the Group of Seven.
But wrong I was. It was a different Macdonald and while I guess I’d heard the of Jock Macdonald but never really seen his work – I got a good education!
Jock (more formally James William Galloway) Macdonald was a leading Canadian modernist painter of the 20th Century. He was born (1897) and raised in Scotland before coming to Canada in the 1920’s. He first settled in Vancouver but would live in a number of places in Canada before passing away in 1960 in Toronto after over a decade there.
His early training was as a designer and some of his early work bears the influence of commercial design. In Canada he worked with Fred Varley of the Group of Seven and produced some fine landscape canvases that fit right in with the work of the Group.
But most significantly (and enlightening for me) was his development as a leading modernist abstract painter. In fact he was an important member of the Canadian Painters Eleven group.
Jock Macdonald: Evolving Forms runs at the Vancouver Art Gallery until 2015 January 4th.
I have just finished reading DEFIANT SPIRITS, The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven by Ross King. It was a very enjoyable and informative read. King traces the formation of the great, now quintessential Canadian art movement, tying together the characters and the history of the time.
Although I was generally familiar with the Group of Seven, there were two fundamental lessons that had never really clicked into place for me before reading this book. The first was the influence of the First World War and secondly the struggle by the Group for acceptance of their art by critics and the public.
The First World War (The Great War) was very important to Canada’s development as an independent and influential nation on the world stage. I had heard this fact before but King makes it all so clear from the pressure at home to enlist, to the adventures and horrors experienced by members of the future group who fought in the trenches and served as war artists. A significant part of the book is set in Britain providing interesting insights into not only to the Group of Seven and painting, but also to the war effort and military structure.
It seems so hard for me to believe that the style of the Group of Seven met with such resistance in their time. Their art was decried by many critics and the public as radical, revolutionary and just poor art. The artists felt strong in their commitment to develop a distinctive, modern Canadian style of painting. They benefited from limited but critical support from two people. First was Dr. MacCallum who provided financial support that allowed key members to concentrate on their art and importantly to stay in Canada, so that their collective influences could ignite the movement. Second was the support of the National Gallery and particularly director Eric Brown and Sir Edmund Walker under whose guidance paintings of the group were purchased (not without criticism and controversy). The strong moral support (and of course the money) from this national institution obviously gave the Group members confidence to carry on with their struggle.
Another aspect of this book (in fact the one that first piqued my interest) was regarding the possible influences of the European art movements of the time upon the Group of Seven members. I have been a long time fan of the the Impressionist and Post-impressionist movements in France and curious if there were any connections with the Canadian landscape painting school. In Defiant Spirits, King does explain a number of connecting threads, such as which of the Canadians studied in Europe or otherwise came into contact with European art movements of the time.
The book also paints a clear picture of the relation between Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. I have long believed the supposition that Thomson, had he not died, would surely had been a member of the group, once if formally formed. This book presents so many examples of Thomson interactions with and influence upon the future members of the group (for example sharing studios and travels) that there can be no doubt.
Defiant Spirits is divided into three “books” and each book has a section with color plates of some of the paintings that are discussed. The book also features numerous black and white photos, particularly of the characters. The book seems to be very well researched (with an extensive bibliography) and definitely is well presented. It is a great story. I don’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who is interested in the Group of Seven and this period of Canadian history.
Although I am developing quite a stack of art-related books to read, my most recent acquisition has jumped to front of the queue!
I am now through the first four chapters of “Defiant Spirits, the Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven” by Ross King – and I am loving this book. I have been eagerly anticipating this book since I first heard (last winter) that it was coming . As soon as I saw orders were being taken, I put mine in. So why my interest?
Firstly I am a big fan of the quintessential Canadian art movement, the Group of Seven (and of course Tom Thomson) and that is who this books is about. I am eager to understand all I can about how these painters came to see and paint the Canadian landscape the way they did and this book is certainly aiming to do that. The other great personal influence for my painting was the impressionist and post-impressionists movements. This book attempts to explain ties between the European and Canadian movements, looking at the history of each of the members of the group, their European influences and their interactions with each other. Much has been written (and much I have read) before about the Group of Seven but I am learning new things with each page of this book.
I also didn’t hesitate to purchase this book, given that it was authored by Ross King. I thoroughly enjoyed his award-winning previous book “The Judgment of Paris”. This Saskatchewan native now based out of England has also written a number of other books that I will have to get around to reading someday – but for now – it’s back to Defiant Spirits