Welcome Home: Canada’s Art Memories – Group of Seven

In honour of my return home to Toronto, I thought to focus this latest blog entry on Canada’s rich artistic heritage, notably the country’s famous band of artists, the fantastic, Group of Seven – so well known within our northern borders, they often go undetected amongst the more prominent art circles around the world.

Upon a recent trip to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), I was reawakened to the painterly genius of the Group of Seven, active during the early 20th century (spanning from the 1920s until the 1930s). This immensely talented set of landscape artists captured the beautiful and magical essence of Canadian natural scenery through majestic colours and bold brushstrokes. Unfortunately, the AGO’s installation of these paintings isn’t particularly user-friendly – leaving visitors overwhelmed by their layered display and sparse booklets citing key information such as title and artist (a basic requirement for any reputable art institution). Persistence should prevail though, as the AGO’s Group of Seven collection is truly a treasure and definitely worth a visit. This movement can stand amongst the many throughout the history of art, whose artistic tenants are reflected in the art of the past and present.

Two Notable Highlights:

1. A.J Casson, Rooftops (1924)
A quintessential Canadian scene, Casson’s artwork captures a familiar scene to all Canucks—idyllic, white powered snow atop roofs of a quiet urban community, be it Montreal, Milton or Moncton. The striking, yet fitting contrast in colour between the fresh white, powdery snow with the strong multicoloured houses create a beautiful pairing, that is effortlessly fashioned by Casson. The repetition and symmetrical quality of the painting draws in viewers, even if only roofs and small sections of homes are displayed – one cannot help but to be satisfied by the scene on display. Breaking up this repetition is the ornate architecture of each home that differs from the next, a slightly elevated peak to windows embedded within the gable. Although a slightly flat perspective, there is a charming quality and warmth to Casson’s Rooftops. And, finally, Casson’s masterful brushwork and colour palette give the impression of heavy snow with shades of blue that create a density achieved only through paint. This piece is reminiscent of the French painter, Maurice Utrillo whose work captured daily suburban scenes, during all seasons.
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Maurice Utrillo, Maison de Mimi Pinson (1938 – 1940)

2. A.Y Jackson, Yellowknife Country
Jackson’s artwork is a beautiful landscape scene that unites both sky and land in unison on canvas. The brushstrokes and paint are so raw and thick, giving each stroke a chalk-like quality. As with Vincent van Gogh’s work, the prominent brushstrokes and evocative colours bring Jackson’s art to life, magically creating a sense of movement in a very still scene. I am particularly fond of the colour palette selected by Jackson, from the deep eggplant hues of the earth to the rich greens of the trees and, to finally vivacious blues that paint the sky, the result is breathtaking. Jackson’s direct, face on perspective is similar to that found in the pieces by contemporary painter, Peter Doig (A Scotsman by birth, Doig lived in Canada for most of his youth, and can be considered an adopted son, whose work Country-rock, featuring the rainbow underpass off Toronto’s Don Valley Parkway, sold for $15 million at Sotheby’s in June).
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Peter Doig, Concrete Cabin (1991-92)

Stay tuned as my Canadian art adventures unfold —to be continued…

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