Canadian Painting in the Thirties

The 1975 exhibition: Catalogue Reviews

Art Bulletin
01 Sep 1977

A review of Canadian Painting in the Thirties exhibition catalogue written by Charles C. Hill and published by the National Gallery of Canada. Preface of the catalogue is written by Jean Sutherland Boggs, director of the National Gallery. Charles C. Hill, Assistant Curator of Post-Confederation Art, presents a history of the critical period in the development of Canadian art in the 1930s. The decade was characterized by the movement between polarities, from nationalism to internationalism, from the Group of Seven to the Contemporary Arts Society, from Toronto to Montreal. The artistic developments during this period were parallel, but not identical to the ones in the United States. Unlike the United States, Canada had no government-supported programs for the arts. Influenced by mural painting in the United States, Charles Comfort painted panels for the Toronto Stock Exchange in 1936. By the mid-1930s, younger Canadian artists had studied at the Art Students League in New York. Hill traces the struggle between the members and followers of the Group of Seven and a number of Canadian artists who rejected the landscape as representative of a national symbol. Some saw art as a vehicle for expressing political and social convictions, whereas others turned to a more subjective vision and absorption in formal problems. By the 1940s, Montreal came to dominate Canadian art developments. The first chapter of the catalogue deals with the formation of the Canadian Group of Painters from the Group of Seven. A.Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer and Lawren S. Harris extended their influence into the 1930s from Toronto to Montreal. Edwin Holgate is a key figure in the development of a Montreal school. In British Columbia, Emily Carr, Fred Varley and Jock MacDonald continued the landscape tradition of the Group of Seven. Mark Tobey had a profound effect on Emily Carr and her interest in Theosophy. Another chapter is devoted to the independents, including LeMoine FitzGerald, David Milne and Lawren Harris. All three artists were influenced by developments from the United States and abroad. The younger members of the Canadian Group of Painters eventually rejected the nationalism of their seniors. John Lyman was a spokesman for the new internationalism and rising dominance of Montreal as an art centre. Lyman, president of the Contemporary Arts Society, wrote monthly columns for The Gazette between 1936 and 1940. Hill also examines the role of women in the arts in his catalogue.


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.