Glyde and Schaefer: Visions of Canada
There are two paintings in the National Gallery of Canada that are separated by 16 years, 3,500 kilometres and, most recently, about 20 metres. They are bound, however, by strong links that are real, if perhaps less measurable.
Carl Schaefer made his painting of his grandparents’ farmhouse in 1934 in Hanover, Ontario, while Henry George ("H.G.") Glyde finished his painting of miners’ cottages in 1950 in Canmore, Alberta. Today, the paintings hang in the same room at the Gallery, and both speak to the regionalist eye that was rising in the United States (more formally), and in Canada (more loosely).
Both artists were turning what they had learned of art towards the embrace of something new. Although the Group of Seven had already led the creation of a national visual identity, Hyde and Schaefer longed for regional voices, despite their very different connections to these regions.
Schaefer was born in Hanover, Ontario, in 1903. His mother died when he was a boy, and he was sent to live with his grandparents in the farmhouse he would one day depict on canvas. That the house came to have great meaning for him was seen in later summers, when he returned with his own family, as well as in his painting that all but glows with affection and nostalgia.
In Schaefer's painting, and in his watercolour sketch, the house is set on high ground and presented to the viewer like a treasured family heirloom on a cabinet. Its permanence is alluded to by the juxtaposition of lively green trees and the skeletal dead tree on the right. The house is solid, reliable and warm – the beating heart of the farm as a broader place of growth and renewal. The angularity of the sky in the painting could be an homage to the animated skies of Emily Carr and Lawren S. Harris, as if to pay respect while pushing in a new direction, towards a different, more regional identity.
Schaefer had enrolled in the Ontario College of Art in 1921 and was greatly influenced by the Group of Seven. He was taught by Arthur Lismer and J.E.H. MacDonald, who later introduced him to Harris and A.Y. Jackson. The Group of Seven had defined how many would see Canada, but much of the nation and its people were not visible in the group’s works. A few years after college, Schaefer wandered in from the iconic wilderness of the Group’s defining view, and set his sights on farmers, their fields and rural life.
Ontario Farmhouse earned Schaefer a national reputation, and art curator Dennis Reid called it – and the artist’s other Hanover paintings, including the Gallery's Summer Harvest (1935) and the Art Gallery of Ontario's Storm Over The Fields (1937) – “the most moving series of pictures painted in Canada in the 1930s.”
Three years younger than Schaefer, H.G. Glyde was born in 1906, in Luton, England, and in 1926 entered the Royal College School of Design in London. He fancied the 12th-century art of southern France, and the 13th- and 14th-century Gothic art of Italy. Those influences are seen in such early works as The Resurrection (1927–28), with its dense circle of stiff figures leaning into the central action, and in Country Dance (1935) as well as the Gallery's Wiener Roast (1936), although in that work the figures enjoying its crowded joviality are clearly more modern.
In 1935, Glyde brought his young family to Calgary, where he taught drawing at the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art (now Alberta University of the Arts) for a year. They never left. Glyde fell in love with the landscapes of western Canada and wrote of a land “with its back lying hard against the Eastern wall of the Rockies, … [that] marks the end of the great plains, and introduces the rolling forms of the foothills …”
Glyde used the term “regional” with his students, and encouraged them to find inspiration within their own communities. That inspiration is unmistakable in his miners’ cottages – all plain wood boards and rustic earth tones, as if they had grown out of the landscape itself. Their straight lines contrast appealingly with the sinuous clay road or with the long grass, which lays to either side like the tousled hair of a man at ease with his own nature.
There was no formal “regionalist” movement in Canada – unlike in the United States where artists such as Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton were having an impact, although none of those artists worked in isolation. The fields and trees in Schaefer’s work share colours and composition with paintings such as Wood’s 1931 masterpiece Fall Plowing. Glyde’s daughter, Helen Collinson, wrote that the work of her father and Benton shared a narrative content and expressionistic figures, although Benton, she said, had the “clipped, frenetic” rhythms of jazz, while her father’s work was finer and more detailed, more “Baroque.” Ultimately, the two Canadian artists each had their own vision that made their work distinct – even with their essential links across time, style and all those kilometres.
For details of works by Carl Schaefer and H.G. Glyde, see the National Gallery of Canada's collection online. To share this article, please click on the arrow at the top right hand of the page. Subscribe to our newsletters to stay up-to-date on the latest Gallery news, and to learn more about art in Canada.