National Visions, National Blindness: Canadian Art and Identities in the 1920s

By Rolfe, Christopher | British Journal of Canadian Studies, September 2008 | Go to article overview

National Visions, National Blindness: Canadian Art and Identities in the 1920s


Rolfe, Christopher, British Journal of Canadian Studies


Literature, Criticism and the Arts Leslie Dawn, National Visions, National Blindness: Canadian Art and Identities in the 1920s (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2006), viii + 446pp. Cased. $85. ISBN 978-0-7748-1217-7. Paper. $34.95. ISBN 978-0-7748-1218-4.

This is a significant book that seeks to revise (and, in so doing, renders problematic) longstanding conventions relating to the landscapes of the Group of Seven and the construction of a modern Canadian national identity in the early twentieth century. Dawn boldly brings out the inconsistencies and contradictions at the heart of the new pictorial identity and, in particular, the inherent paradox in promoting landscapes empty of all people. The book is well documented and offers fascinating insight into the role of institutions and individuals, and the role of individuals within institutions, as Canada sought to formulate and assert its specificity. This is especially true of the first four chapters ('Canadian Art in England', England in Canadian Art', 'Canadian Art in Paris', and 'Canadian Primitives in Paris') which deal with the national and international exhibitions organised by Eric Brown of the National Gallery of Canada in order to promote the new national image.

Dawn argues that the attempt to construct a Canadian identity, based on binary oppositions, 'mediated through landscape', between the nation and England and between the nation and its indigenous people, was inevitably doomed to failure but that it would also throw up other, more pluralistic possibilities. …

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