The Group of Seven
1917 Today is the anniversary of the death of the Canadian artist Tom Thomson - who was a member of Canada's treasured group of artists and they were known as the Group of Seven.
Tom was born to a pioneer family. He grew up in rural Ontario on the shores of Georgian Bay. He had an idyllic childhood. He was the sixth of nine children and music filled the home that he grew up in. His mom actually read Byron to the kids every night before they went to bed.
Tom loved to fish - it would be a lifelong passion. And, although Tom had little formal schooling, the peace of his childhood home is reflected in the tranquility of his paintings. Just Google "Tom Thomson Landscape," and you'll see what I mean.
As a young man, Tom went to a business college where his excellent penmanship surfaced. Tom had outstanding handwriting and it led him to jobs as a pen artist. He followed his brother, George, to Seattle for work and stayed there for a few years. However, he returned to Toronto after breaking up with his sweetheart when she nervously laughed at his proposal.
Back in Canada, Tom met the men who would become his artist coaches. Together, they were known as the Group of Seven. One of the seven, Jim MacDonald, suggested Tom's subject should be nature. Tom took the advice to heart, and his work is almost entirely devoted to landscapes -and he prominently featured trees, water, sky, and clouds in his paintings.
Gardeners will especially appreciate Tom's paintings of trees. They are unique. And, they convey a feeling of being alive. And you can almost imagine yourself standing right there - beside Tom - in the spot where he painted his trees.
In 1912, when Tom first visited the forest at Canada's oldest provincial park, Algonquin Park, his heart was gripped by the beauty. He became obsessed with Algonquin and spent as much time as he could among the Jack Pines, Black Spruce, and Maple. At Algonquin, Tom painted his subjects on a birch panel using oil paints. And tragically, in just five short years of getting started with his paintings at Algonquin, the park Tom loved would witness his untimely death.
Tom was a mostly uneducated and untrained painter, and so each member of the Group of Seven played a role in mentoring and teaching him. You can imagine how he surprised and delighted them when his paintings improved so rapidly. Tom soaked up all of their advice. In many instances, his development as a painter was such, that he was surpassing his teachers.
Just as Tom's work was rocketing toward greatness, his artistic arc was cut short when he disappeared on this day in 1930. He was only 39 years old.
Eight days after his empty canoe was found floating in Canoe Lake, his body was found. The mystery of his death is a cold case that has never been officially solved.
In a little spot on Canoe Lake, there is a cairn for Tom with a marker. And his old friend, Jim MacDonald, wrote the inscription for it which reads:
“He lived humbly but passionately with the wild and it revealed itself to him. It sent him out from the woods only to show these revelations through his art, and it took him to itself at last."
Today, Tom's work is considered quintessentially Canadian.
Remembering his north country friend, Jim wrote,
“Tom was never very proud of his painting, but he was very cocky about his fishing."