Dawn: Sketches by the Group of SevenJuly 7, 2006 - July 7, 2006
Curated by Ian Thom, Vancouver Art Gallery
Dawn is the first exhibition in Across the Province: The Vancouver Art Gallery Collection, bringing works of art from the Gallery’s permanent collection to communities throughout British Columbia.
The artists of the Group of Seven have left an indelible mark on Canadian culture. The landscapes depicted have come to represent quintessential visions of Canada. The Group, consisting of Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Francis Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald and Frederick Varley, first exhibited together in 1920. Despite their differences in ideology and application, the Group collectively set out to respond to the environment around them and to articulate the distinctive qualities of their country. Their aim was not to depict the land in realistic terms but to reflect an emotional response to the breadth and drama of the Canadian landscape and thereby represent the character of its people.
Sketching was an integral part of the Group’s artistic practice. To capture the country’s pioneering spirit of adventure and progress, they had to leave the studio and venture into the wilderness. The sketches in this exhibition are studies. Some developed into canvases; others were conceived as finished works. The “on-the-spot” process fostered experimentation with new subjects, colours and techniques, resulting in a wide range of styles and the incorporation of a variety of influences outside the norms of Canadian art practice.
In an attempt to break from European artistic conventions, the Group looked to the teachings of theosophy, a merging of Asian philosophies and religious ideas. Along with a number of American writers such as Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman, the Group emphasized emotion and intuition as a means of seeking spiritual truths.
Dawn refers to the Group’s aspirations to create new artistic forms and develop a national vision. The years bracketing the first World War saw the rise of nationalist ideals that attempted to define the cultural values that unite a country. Dawn, a moment captured in many artworks created by the Group, evokes an awakening, a time in which ideas of nationhood, spirituality and the role of artists was subject to shifting perceptions and symbolic weight.
The works featured in this exhibition illustrate a rigorous and lively period of artistic and cultural exploration. They illuminate a time in which the symbolic exploration of the Canadian identity marked a wider shift in the country’s cultural history. In so doing, these sketches continue to stimulate debate on the very idea of national identity.