In an earlier post I pointed readers to some of my favorite snow paintings by the Canadian Group of Seven. I did not include there any of the paintings by the not-quite-a-Group-of-Seven-member Tom Thomson. You might say I was saving the best for last. Tom Thomson is my favorite and certainly was a master of the rugged Canadian landscape in all seasons. Although he would typically spend his winters working in his studio in Toronto, Thomson certainly encountered and painted snow and ice in the early spring and late fall.
As I had done with the Group of Seven snow paintings, I studied prints of Thomson’s works to better understand the values he used for snow and the relative difference between snow in the sun versus in the shade. I used my value scale comparator with a value 1 being associated with pure white and a 9 for black. I observed a fair bit of variation in Thomson’s paintings with snow in sun appearing to be anywhere from a 2 to a 5 but 3 was the most common sunny snow value. When the snow was in the shade the value usually dipped a couple of points. Although not scientific, with my eye I estimated the shady snow in Thomson’s paintings to rand from 5 to 8 with 5.5 being the most common.
First Snow in Autumn is a very snowy painting with clear areas in sun and shade. By my estimate this one of the highest values for sunlit snow. The almost white color I would estimate to be a value 2 while the light blue shadows are about a 5.5. Early Snow from the Winnipeg Art Gallery although darker in value overall with a 5 in the sun and 7 in the shadows still reads believably as a snowy winter scene. Probably a textbook example of values for snow is in Thomson’s Woods in Winter with a value 3 for snow in the sun and a drop of 3 to a 6 in the shadows.
The painting that I observed the biggest difference between sun and shade values was Path Behind Mowat Lodge with a difference of 5 – from a 3 in the sunlit area to an 8 in the blue/purple shadows cast upon the snow.
So what did I learn from my little study? Snow in the sun should be depicted with a value of around a 2 to 4 and the shadow on the snow are about 2 to 3 points lower (darker). This generally mean a value between 5 and 7. Of course my little investigation is not highly scientific. I was just working off prints in books (Incidentally Tom Thomson, edited by Dennis Reid is a good one, full of images ). I think that maybe if I could measure the value with scientific instruments directly off the original paintings then I could know the secret – but then again I think it probably wouldn’t make that much difference and having a formula, or specific numerical values certainly isn’t going to allow one to recreate the magic of a Tom Thomson painting.
Here are links to a few other Tom Thomson paintings featuring snow from the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Canada:
NORTHERN LIGHT, The enduring mystery of Tom Thomson and the woman who loved him is an interesting and tragic book. I won’t spoil the mystery by revealing the author’s conclusions but I will say it was a good, entertaining read. MacGregor wraps up years of investigation (his own and others) to lay out all of the theories and suspects around the death of legendary Canadian painter Tom Thomson back in 1917.
Aside from addressing the Thompson mystery, there is another major theme to this book. Northern Light devotes significant pages to the sad story of Winnie Trainor, who was reported to be engaged to Thomson and just perhaps… After Thomson’s death she lead a rather solitary and sometimes mysterious life.
Much of the story takes place in and around Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park in Northern Ontario. This area was the base for many of Thomson’s sketching and outdoors adventures and also the location of the lakeside cabin of the Trainor family. Through the book we are introduced to an intriguing cast of characters and their white lies, second hand stories and faded memories. No doubt it is very challenging to piece together a story, to solve a mystery, without a lot of documentary evidence but MacGregor does a very admirable job. A number of times while reading I thought “Okay, now I know what the author is thinking” only to realize that there was still a good portion of the book to go. Sure enough, as the remaining pages unfolded more twists and evidence were revealed, contributing to the entertaining read.
Northern Light was published by Random House in the October of 2010. The 357 page book includes a couple of simple but welcome maps of Northern Ontario around Algonquin Park and the Canoe Lake areas. Also useful are the many black and white photos reproduced through the pages. It’s great to look through books rich with big color images of Tom Thomson paintings. This book doesn’t have any of those painting reproductions but still is a worthwhile read that I recommend to fans of Canadian painting and to those just interested in a good real-life mystery story.
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