The Group of 7


The Tangled Garden by J.E.H. MacDonald

I love art. I love it a lot.  But I don’t know if understand it. At least not very much. I wish I did. Of course ignorance of a subject has rarely stopped me from commenting, as readers of this blog no too well? So why start now? I have tried to learn more about art, ever since I watched the BBC television series Civilization written and narrated by Kenneth Clark. I have visited art galleries around the world and have tried to educate myself about art.. In Ottawa we visited the National Gallery. It is an immense gallery and it is never possible to see it all. One must be selective.

         We opted to see 2 exhibits. One a temporary exhibit on the Anthropocene. I will comment on that later. The other was an exhibit of art of the Group of Seven and their contemporaries from the permanent collection.

I wanted to see the Group of 7 exhibit, even though I had seen it before, because it felt to alive to me as a result of travelling through so much of the countryside where they did much of their painting.

I have always had a soft spot for the Group of Seven.  The group was started by 7 artists who thought of themselves as revolutionaries in art. They wanted to paint Canada in a Canadian style.  When they first announced themselves as a group Toronto art critics were largely indignant. They wanted a style that was appropriate to and born out of Canada.

In particular the Group of Seven was fond of and attached to the Canadian landscape in and around Algonquin Park and the Georgian Bay area.  Ever since I first travelled there I felt the same way.  It often seemed like my spiritual home.

The painting above of the Tangled Garden by J.E.H. MacDonald the senior member of the group is one of the most famous in Canada. It was quite controversial when first revealed in 1916 because it was a painting of what was considered a prosaic subject and it was painting on  a large canvas. One critic called it “a huge tomato salad.”


The Canadian Encyclopedia described the group this way, “With their bright colours, tactile paint handling, and simple yet dynamic forms, the Group of Seven transfigured the Canadian Shield, the dense northern boreal forest, and endless lakes into a transcendent spiritual force.”

I believe this painting was created by Lawren Harris who is probably my favourite of the Group.  I really admired this painting. The Canadian artists realized that the light on a cold Canadian winter day reflecting from the giant reflector under their feet—the snow covered ground—was very different from the light on a warm day in the south of France.  They had to learn how to display such differences in their art. They could not just copy the French artists they admired. They needed a Canadian art. I loved the way the brilliant white snow in the background lake is so different than the foreground snow which is more dull. What is more Canadian than snow?

North Shore, Lake Superior

This is probably my favourite work of art by the Group of 7 and not just because we had driven around the north shore of the lake on our way to Ottawa (though that helped.  I love the stark and simple landscape and how the art is not really representational. Sort of an early abstract work of art on a brilliant and dark day on the world’s largest lake. What could be more Canadian than this?

We had a great day in National Gallery. More Canadians should see how their tax dollars are spent.

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