Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven return to Canada

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Tom Thomson, The Jack Pine (1916–17), oil on canvas, 127.9 x 139.8 cm. NGC

After a successful tour across Europe, Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven is back in Canada, where there’s still time to see some of our country’s most iconic works under one roof before the exhibition closes on January 6.

The exhibition, now on at The McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, north of Toronto, includes more than 120 works, 36 of which are from the National Gallery’s collection.  Paintings from the Art Gallery of Ontario, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection and a number of other private and public lenders are also featured. 

The exhibition, organized in collaboration with the National Gallery of Canada, was the brainchild of Ian Dejardin, Director of the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London, England. Dejardin, who has been an admirer of the Group of Seven for some time, chose to host Painting Canada to help mark Dulwich’s bicentennial.

“Ian Dejardin has brought a unique perspective to these pictures of the Canadian landscape, which we in Canada have come to know so well,” says Charles C. Hill, the National Gallery of Canada’s Curator of Canadian Art. “I am delighted with the exhibition’s success abroad. Its presentation in Canada shines a much welcome spotlight on the work of these Canadian artists.” 

Opening to glowing reviews in the British mainstream and art press, Painting Canada went on to become the third-most successful show in the Dulwich Picture Gallery’s 200-year history, as Brits rushed not only to see the exhibition, but also to empty Dulwich’s gift shop of Group of Seven mementos.

Writing in The Observer, British reviewer Laura Cumming said: “Painting Canada is one of those shows that does more than transplant the viewer, for a while at least. It feeds the imagination.” The Independent said it was one of London’s five best shows, and The Times described Painting Canada as a “remarkable” exhibition of paintings that were “not just significant, but rather wonderful work by a group of painters virtually unknown to the English.”

It was the first major exhibition in Britain for the Group of Seven since the spectacular success of the 1924 British Empire Exhibition in Wembley, London. Prior to that exhibition, the Group of Seven—and their inspiration, Tom Thomson—had failed to garner the positive attention at home that the Group would later enjoy across the pond.

As Dejardin noted in his contribution to the book accompanying the exhibition, the Group of Seven were described as “garish, affected, freakish” by the Toronto Star, and as “A single narrow and rigid formula of ugliness” by Saturday Night magazine in Toronto. Yet, when the group show opened in Wembley, the British press ate it up, with the Morning Post in London describing the works of Thomson and the Group of Seven as: “The foundation of what may become one of the greatest schools of Landscape Painting.”

“These artists produced some of the most vibrant and beautiful landscapes of the twentieth century,” says Dejardin. “As for Tom Thomson, what he achieved in his tragically short career (just 5 years) is extraordinary. He is Canada’s very own Van Gogh.”

After Dulwich, Painting Canada went to the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo, Norway from January to May 2012 before travelling to The Groninger Museum, Groningen, The Netherlands from June to October of 2012. The exhibition opened at The McMichael Canadian Art Collection on November 3 and closes on January 6, 2013.

 

Painted in the winter of 1916-17 and purchased by the National Gallery in 1918, The Jack Pine has once again completed a European tour.

After being part of Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London, UK, this work and others then went to Oslo's National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, before travelling to The Groninger Museum, Groningen, The Netherlands from June to October of 2012. The exhibition opened at The McMichael Canadian Art Collection on November 3 and closes on January 6, 2013.

Before The Jack Pine left Canada it underwent the most extensive cleaning and restoration in its history. This short, behind the scenes video, takes you through just how that restoration was done. 

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