Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven

Toronto - September 26, 2011

An impressive European tour dedicated to Group of Seven

Dulwich Picture Gallery, 19 October 2011 – 8 January 2012
National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo, Norway 29 January – 13 May 2012
The Groninger Museum, Groningen, the Netherlands 3 June – 28 October 2012

London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery and The National Gallery of Canada (NGC) are pleased to announce the most impressive exhibition dedicated to Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven ever to travel to Great Britain and Europe.

Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven is organized by the Dulwich Picture Gallery and the NGC, in collaboration with the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo and the Groninger Museum, with the generous support of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and other institutional and private lenders. The Canadian galleries are lending some of the country’s most iconic paintings, and a significant number of rarely seen works are coming from private collections.

Ian Dejardin, director at Dulwich Picture Gallery, said: “These artists produced some of the most vibrant and beautiful landscapes of the twentieth century. The Canadians have kept this particular light under a bushel for far too long – I am proud, and frankly amazed, that this is to be the very first major exhibition of their work to be held in this country since the sensation of their first showing here in 1924. 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

"We are delighted that a British admirer of the Group of Seven, Ian Dejardin, chose to mount an exhibition of Canadian art to mark the Bi-centenary of the Dulwich Picture Gallery,’’ said NGC director, Marc Mayer. "Although contemporary Canadian Art is now quite prominent in the world, our historical art deserves a much larger international audience. I am confident that this fine show will turn the tide and for this we are grateful to Dulwich and to Ian.”

Painting Canada will feature some of Canada’s most famous landscape paintings. These bold and exciting works were first celebrated not in Canada, but in London, at the British Empire exhibitions at Wembley in 1924 and 1925. Since then, despite becoming greatly revered in Canada, the work of Thomson and the Group of Seven has remained virtually unknown on the international stage. This major exhibition of Canadian art will be the largest in history to travel to Europe featuring an astonishing 122 paintings, as well as Tom Thomson’s sketchbox. The presentation at Dulwich is made possible thanks to the generous support of Presenting Sponsors RBC Wealth Management and Groupe Aeroplan.

"The Dulwich Picture Gallery and the National Gallery of Canada have combined to create an historic collection of some of Canada's most revered artwork. RBC Wealth Management is honoured to be a presenting sponsor of this milestone exhibit, as it brings some of Canada's most iconic art to a global audience," said George Lewis, Group Head RBC Wealth Management.

"We are honoured to support what is one of the biggest ever expressions of international recognition and impact of Canadian creativity," said Rupert Duchesne, President and CEO, Groupe Aeroplan.

The beginnings of a new art movement
Tom Thomson and J. E. H. MacDonald, Arthur Lismer, Frederick Varley, Frank Johnston and Franklin Carmichael met as employees of the design firm Grip Ltd. in Toronto. The other two members of the Group were A. Y. (Alexander Young) Jackson from Montreal, and Lawren Harris, effectively the Group’s leader. They often met at the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto to discuss their opinions and share their art.

The artists, sometimes known as the ‘Algonquin School’ at this stage, received indirect monetary support from Harris (heir to the Massey-Harris farm machinery fortune) and direct support from Dr. James MacCallum, a Toronto ophthalmologist and collector. Harris and MacCallum collaborated to build a studio building that opened in 1914 to serve as a meeting and working place for the proposed new Canadian art movement.

The progress of this informal group of artists was interrupted by the outbreak of World War I and a further severe blow came in 1917 when Thomson died while canoeing in Algonquin Park. The circumstances of his death and subsequent burial have remained mysterious, a source of myriad conspiracy theories to this day.

From mixed reviews to critical acclaim
Thomson’s seven artist friends reunited after the war. They continued to travel throughout Canada, sketching the landscape and developing techniques to interpret this wild and diverse terrain. In 1920 they finally came together as the Group of Seven and held their first exhibition under that name. Prior to this, the art establishment’s view of the northern Canadian landscape was that it was either unpaintable or too wild and uncouth to be worthy of being painted. Reviews for the 1920 exhibition were mixed, but as the decade progressed the Group came to be recognized as pioneers of a new, Canadian, school of art. Today, every schoolchild is familiar with masterpieces such as Thomson’s The Jack Pine, arguably one of the most famous and beloved paintings in Canada.

The Canadian landscape and its painters
Painting Canada has been planned as a journey across Canada, from East to West, framed by two grand rooms dedicated individually to Tom Thomson’s electrifying sketches and paintings of Algonquin Park and Lawren Harris’s other-worldly paintings of the Arctic and the Rocky Mountains. Between these two ‘poles,’ a selection of the best work by Thomson and the Group of Seven will be on display. A special feature of the show will be the juxtaposition, wherever possible, of the initial sketch with the finished canvas. One room will be devoted entirely to a display of these vibrant sketches, which represent one of Canada’s most impressive contributions to 20th century art.

Exhibition curators
Ian Dejardin, director of Dulwich Picture Gallery, is lead curator. The Canadian co-curators are Katerina Atanassova (chief curator of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection) and Anna Hudson (associate professor of Canadian art and curatorial studies, York University, Canada).

Catalogue
The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated 216-page catalogue produced by Dulwich Picture Gallery and published by Philip Wilson Publishers. The catalogue tells of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven’s collective quest to depict Canada in paint. It recounts their beginnings, the challenges they faced, and the remarkable and often extreme journeys they undertook in search of new subject matter. Essays by curator Ian Dejardin and co-curators Katerina Atanassova and Anna Hudson explore various aspects of the Group of Seven’s practice, consider the artists’ relationship with the Arctic north, and analyse Thomson’s art through the prism of the prevalent scientific theories of the day. A fresh, European perspective on the Canadians’ work is offered in essays exploring their links with Scandinavian art and European expressionism.

Available in paperback at a cost of £25 ($40). It is on sale online at dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk

Exhibition tours
After Painting Canada closes in Dulwich, it will be presented in Norway and the Netherlands:

  • Dulwich Picture Gallery, London UK: 19 October 2011 – 8 January 2012
  • National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo, Norway: 29 January – 13 May 2012
  • The Groninger Museum, Groningen, the Netherlands: 3 June – 28 October 2012

Canadian funding support and media collaboration
The UK leg of the tour at Dulwich Picture Gallery has been fully funded by through corporate sponsorship from Groupe Aeroplan and RBC Wealth Management as Presenting Sponsors with Canada’s The Globe and Mail and the UK’s The Telegraph providing generous media partnership support. The Canadian Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery, chaired by David Silcox, a noted specialist on the Group of Seven, have also made the exhibition possible through their considerable generosity and charitable donation towards the show.

The Dulwich Picture Gallery also extends its special thanks to its supporting sponsors Kinnear Financial, Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery, Stikeman Elliot, Canadian Tourism Commission, Air Canada, Timothy Franey Charitable Foundation, Farrow and Ball, and its media partners: The Globe and Mail and The Daily Telegraph.

About the Dulwich Picture Gallery
The Dulwich Picture Gallery is England’s very first purpose-built public art gallery: it was founded in 1811 when Sir Francis Bourgeois RA bequeathed his collection of old masters “for the inspection of the public.” The Gallery houses one of the country’s finest collections of Old Masters, especially rich in French, Italian and Spanish Baroque paintings and British portraits from Tudor times to the 19th century. Famous works include those by Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Poussin, Watteau, Canaletto, Rubens, Veronese, and Murillo. The Gallery also hosts a yearly programme of world class temporary exhibitions. The Gallery’s mission is to house and preserve its international collection “for the inspection of the public,” in the belief that active engagement with art can change lives for the better. For more information: dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk

About the National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada is home to the most important collections of historical and contemporary Canadian art, including the extensive collection of the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography. The Gallery also maintains Canada's premier collection of European Art from the 14th to the 21st century, as well as important works of American, Asian and Indigenous Art and renowned international collections of prints, drawings and photographs. Created in 1880, the National Gallery of Canada has played a key role in Canadian culture for well over a century. Among its principal missions is to increase access to excellent works of art for all Canadians. To do so, it maintains the largest touring art exhibition programme in the world. For more information: gallery.ca

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For more information, please contact:

Madeline Adeane
Press Officer
Dulwich Picture Gallery
0208 299 8710
m.adeane@dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk

Ellie Manwell
Communications Manager
Dulwich Picture Gallery
0208 299 8711
e.manwell@dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk

Josée-Britanie Mallet
Senior Media and Public Relations Officer
National Gallery of Canada
613.990.6835
bmallet@gallery.ca

Naomi Grattan
Senior Media and Public Relations Officer
National Gallery of Canada
613.991.0646
ngrattan@gallery.ca