Harris, Patricia Roberts, Lyon, David, Americas (English Edition)
This year marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the official debut of the Group of Seven, Canada's best known and most influential artistic alliance. Two major retrospectives will commemorate the event, but the Group hardly needs the publicity. Some of the most recognizable images in the country, their works already occupy major niches in museums across Canada.
Schooled in the Impressionist practice of painting outdoors directly from nature, the members of the Group of Seven departed from the tame, gentle landscapes of Impressionism to capture the grandeur and variety of Canada. They set out to define a national character through an art that celebrates the land - and they succeeded by focusing on the Canadian wilderness as symbolic of a New World purity and unlimited potential.
Even Canadians find it hard to grasp the geographic scope of their country. Second in size only to Russia, Canada covers 3,849,672 square miles. From east to west, it stretches 3,426 miles, crossing one-quarter of the world's time zones. Yet it is sparsely populated, with nine of ten Canadians living within 100 miles of the southern border with the United States. Although the Canadian Pacific Railway had laid track across the country in the 1880s, at the turn of the century much of Canada remained untamed landscape where an adventurer could take his own measure.
The Group of Seven explored and documented the wilds in a way that made the unpeopled landscape part of every Canadian's birthright. "They were part of building pride in the beauty of the wilderness, reviving the Romantic tradition of the sublime in nature," says Megan Bice, a curator at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, outside Toronto. "Now it's become part of our identity. Their painting identifies the Canadian ideal, even though most of us live in cities."
The impact of the Group is all the more remarkable because it existed formally for little more than a decade, beginning with a 1920 exhibition at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the Art Gallery of Ontario). In a sense, historical developments conspired to produce the movement. Academic art was waning and technical experimentation was on the rise. Europe lay exhausted by the bloodiest war in history, yet the North American continent - especially the northern-most tier - was just opening up. But history is only a stage set until it is peopled by actors, and the Group could never have assembled without four strong personalities: Lawren Harris (1885 - 1970), J. E. H. MacDonald (1873-1932), Tom Thomson (1877-1917), and A. Y. Jackson (1882-1974). Among them they had the financial means, …
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Publication information: Article title: Northern Exposure. Contributors: Harris, Patricia Roberts - Author, Lyon, David - Author. Magazine title: Americas (English Edition). Volume: 47. Issue: 2 Publication date: March-April 1995. Page number: 6+. © 2007 Organization of American States. COPYRIGHT 1995 Gale Group.
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