Canadian Painting in the Thirties

The 1975 exhibition: Other Venues

Folle et sage peinture de nos années trente
La Presse
06 Dec 1975

Gilles Toupin announces that the Canadian Painting in the Thirties touring exhibition, organized by Charles Hill, Assistant Curator of Post-Confederation Art at the National Gallery of Canada, will soon be coming to the Musée d?art contemporain de Montréal. Painting in this period was marked by a questioning of the predominance of the Group of Seven, later the Canadian Group of Painters, through the creation of the Contemporary Arts Society, led by Lyman. The 1930s was a time of struggles?struggles not juts between schools, politics, and ideas, but also the struggle of painters for survival. An example of this is Louis Muhlstock, who had to work in the family business to survive. Although the decade?s themes were diversified, the landscape remained a major source of inspiration for the Canadian Group of Painters, which included Lismer, Harris and Jackson. For Lawren Harris, the Great North, steeped in theosophical theories, was a source of spiritual energy. In British Columbia, the works of Emily Carr, Fred Varley and Jock Macdonald are in this vein. In Montréal, the painters in the Beaver Hall Group (Anne Savage, Sarah Robertson, Edwin Holgate, Lilias Torrance Newton and Prudence Howard) began to free themselves from this landscape tradition and showed certain influences of Cézanne and Matisse. Three painters in particular attract the journalist?s attention: LeMoine FitzGerald, David Milne and Harris, who gave Canadian art of this period its best lessons in order and rigour: FitzGerald?s Barn Yard (1931), The Pool (1934), and Jar (1938) for their penchant for geometry; Milne?s works, which interpret reality through lines, colours, spaces, and tones; and finally Harris?s works, including White Triangle (1939), steeped in theosophical ideas, which represent a revolutionary level of abstraction during this period. Several artists were opposed to nationalistic views. These included Comfort, Schaefer, Brooker, and Paraskeva Clark, who painted Petroushka in 1937, a satire of capitalism. Pegi Nicol MacLeod, Jack Humphrey and Miller Brittain also freed themselves from the landscape tradition. In Quebec, a tradition of praising rural life continued with Morrice, Jackson, Marc-Aurèle Fortin and Horatio Walker. André Biéler added a note of social involvement to this with his Gatineau Madonna (1940), as did Lemieux with Lazarus (1941). Cosgrove and Jori Smith rejected academic art. The works of Lyman, Goodridge Roberts, Philip Surrey, Marian Scott, Fritz Brandtner, Muhlstock, Bercovitch, Goldberg, Adrien Hébert and Borduas, in particular Roberts?s Ottawa Landscape in Sunlight (1936); Goldberg?s Tassa del Mar, or Muhlstock?s Open Door of Third House, Groubert Lane, Montréal, signalled the end of Canadian nationalism. John Lyman founded the Contemporary Arts Society in Montréal in 1939. Comparing Canadian painting in the 1930s to European artwork in that period must be avoided. The value of this austere painting resides in its attempts to free itself from the past. Canadian painting in the 1940s was to bear the fruit of this pruning. Charles Hill?s excellent exhibition catalogue is recommended reading. The article is illustrated with Marian Scott?s Escalator (1937); André Biéler?s Gatineau Madonna (1940); David Milne?s Palgrave I (1931) and Fred Varley?s Dhârâna (1932).


Images of the exhibition's installation, the opening ceremony and official visits.

Media Coverage

Almost 200 newspaper and magazine articles in English, French and other languages: reviews, details of the Canadian tour, lectures, films and special events.


Audio clip of curator Charles Hill interviewed by CBC's Carol Bishop. Includes Pierre Trudeau's opening speech.

NFB Film

Derek May's 1977 documentary Pictures From the 1930s looks at the exhibition in the context of the Depression, with newsreel footage of the day.