Canadian Painting in the Thirties

The Independents

Most Canadian artists during the thirties worked in the larger urban centres -Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver - where they could associate with other artists and see exhibitions. However, LeMoine FitzGerald and David Milne preferred a certain isolation to allow themselves to develop along more personal lines. After Lawren Harris left for the United States, his painting also evolved in directions quite distinct from anything in Canada.

FitzGerald worked in Winnipeg throughout the thirties, making only two trips outside Manitoba in connection with his work at the Winnipeg School of Art. However, he recognized certain advantages to his situation: "It seems impossible for the artist to attain any height without sacrificing at least a little of the ordinary necessities, not to mention the loss of ordinary social contact, that are so essential to others. The desire to create something. fills the artist's mind, and to do this requires time for active work and quiet thought."

FitzGerald's art is a steady progression in the study of formal relationships. While choosing places and objects familiar to him, he was convinced that subject matter was essentially unimportant, putting more "emphasis on study rather than on picture-making alone."

After having lived primarily in New York State for twenty-five years, David Milne returned to Canada in the spring of 1929 eventually settling in Palgrave, Ontario.

Milne's isolation was due in part to economic reasons but, more importantly, it allowed him the time to concentrate on his painting. Milne's art depended on the formulation and solution of certain formal, artistic problems and the consistent development and concentration of his inner self.

David Milne's time at Palgrave was extremely productive; however, economically it was difficult. In 1933 he separated from his wife and moved to Six Mile Lake. First there was a period of adaptation from the "open skies of Palgrave to the closed in material of the bush." New material stimulated new practices and new methods. Attracted by the decisiveness and immediacy of the medium, Milne started painting in watercolour again during the summer of 1937 and he confined himself almost totally to this medium for the next few years. In 1939 he moved from Six Mile Lake to Toronto and then to Uxbridge, Ontario.

In November 1934 Lawren Harris arrived in Hanover, New Hampshire, where he would stay for almost four years. He returned to painting seeking a form of abstract expression derived from natural elements, one that expressed not only the experience of nature, but also his theosophic interpretation of these places and experiences.

In September 1938, Harris moved to New Mexico. Here he joined the Transcendental Painting Group that sought to promote an art that expressed "the immaterial by means of material substances," and "to carry painting beyond the appearance of the physical world. to imaginative realms that are idealistic and spiritual."

Although Harris enjoyed New Mexico, he was forced to return to Canada due to the outbreak of the Second World War. He visited Vancouver in October 1940 and decided to stay the winter. He was to remain there for the next thirty years.