National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Bulletin 7 (IV:1), 1966

Annual Index
Author & Subject

Click figure 16 here for an enlarged image

Click figure 21 here for an enlarged image

Click figure 26 here for an enlarged image

Book Illustration and Design By Canadian Artists 1890-1940 with a list of books illustrated by 
members of the Group of Seven

by Sybille Pantazzi, Librarian,
The Art Gallery of Toronto

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Indeed some of the books issued during this decade by McClelland & Stewart and by the Ryerson Press contain the most original contribution of the Group of Seven to Canadian book design, their end-papers. Decorative end-papers became fashionable in the 1890's when Walter Crane, Lucien Pissarro and F. Lewis Day, among others, designed some delightful ones with delicate repeating patterns. Pictorial designs were used from the first decade of this century, those by Edmond Dulac and Maxwell Parrish for children's books being particularly successful. In the 1920's the use of decorative maps for end-papers, such as those designed by Rockwell Kent, became popular, and similar end-papers were designed for Canadian books in the 1920's and 1930's by J. E. H. MacDonald, Thoreau MacDonald and Stanley Turner. But the use of the rectangle of the two facing halves of the end-papers for a bold stylized sketch in vivid colours was a brilliant and original idea of the Group of Seven. (14) The most striking end-papers are those by Lawren Harris (Fig. 11) and Varley (Figs. 12 & 13); those by A. Y. Jackson (Fig. 14) and Franz Johnston (Fig. 16) are both effective and typical of their respective styles, while J. E. H. MacDonald's rhythmic patterns show that he developed a decorative style for book design quite distinct from his style as a painter (Fig. 15). Bertram Brooker also, at the end of the 1920's, used with dramatic effect a geometric design of mountain peaks for the end-papers of the Yearbook of the Arts in Canada (15) (Fig.17).

Further contributions of the Group to book illustration which are a delight to re-discover are: A. Y. Jackson's humorous and affectionate drawings of birds for A Little Book of Bird Songs (1912) (Fig. 18), or Lismer's witty and apt sketches for The Privacity Agent (1927) (Fig. 19), or Holgate's wood-cuts for Other Days, Other Ways, which reveal an unusual talent to evoke the feel of the Quebec landscape within the compass of small head - and tail-pieces (Fig. 20), and finally, Franklin Carmichael's vigorous wood-engravings for Thorn-Apple Tree (1942) (Fig. 21).

Thoreau MacDonald's work as a designer and illustrator of books is too well known (16) to need any comment here, but his charming designs for A Canadian Child's ABC (Toronto, Dent, 1931) (Fig. 6) have not yet received their full due of appreciation. His alphabet of Canadian animals and scenes contains in microcosm all the precision and rustic poetry which is characteristic of his best work, and on a scale admirably conceived to appeal to children.

Two isolated figures in the 1930's were Bertram Brooker and J. W. G. Macdonald. The former, self-taught, may be said to be the most ambitious of the Canadian illustrators so far, for he was alone to tackle the great classics: Elijah (New York, William Edwin Rudge, 1930), The Ancient Mariner and Crime and Punishment. Unfortunately the latter two were never published. (17) As original in his illustrations as in the rest of his work, J. W. G. Macdonald provided some striking designs for The Neighing North (Toronto, Ryerson Press, 1931), a book of poems by A. C. Dalton. One of his frosty and spirited drawings for that book is reproduced (Fig. 22).

An attractive example of the work of Stanley Turner, who was also a fine illuminator, can be seen in The First Canadian Christmas Carol (Toronto, Rous & Mann, 1927) (Fig. 23). Turner's style in these illustrations shows more affinity with the international style of the 1920's (the illustrations of Albert Rutherston in England or of Carlègle in France, for example) than does the work of the other artists mentioned here.

Robert La Palme is appreciated for his clever caricatures and posters, (18) but his illustrations for Ristontac (by Andrée Maillet, Montreal, Lucien Parizeau, 1945) (Fig. 24) deserve to be better known. The happy combination of flat, stylized pictures in gay primary colours and fluent calligraphy places his book with the best of the Père Castor series published in France by Flammarion in the 1930's.

In conclusion, I should like to emphasize that this survey is only an introduction to the subject. Hence a number of interesting books and illustrators of the period have not been mentioned, and no attempt has been made to deal with illustrations in periodicals. My main purpose has been to show the important role played by the Toronto Art Students' League and by the Group of Seven in the development of book illustration and design in Canada. But a great deal remains to be discovered and studied. (19)

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