The Group of Seven in Western CanadaJune 14, 2003 - June 14, 2003
The Group of Seven in Western Canada adds a new dimension to Canada’s famous art movement. This group of inspired landscape painters formally coalesced in 1920 to publicly challenge Canada’s image of itself, both through its landscape and its artistic traditions. The Group’s 1920 inaugural showing included work by founding members Frank Carmichael, Lawren S. Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Frank H. Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald, and Frederick H. Varley. Later additions to the Group’s roster included A.J. Casson who in 1926 replaced Johnston after his resignation, and Edwin Holgate and Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald who joined in 1931 and 1932 respectively. All of them except Carmichael experienced Western Canada first-hand.
One of the most ambitious historical art shows to be organized by the Glenbow Museum, the exhibition opens the doors to the Group of Seven’s many contributions to Western Canada’s visual art history. Their imagery of rolling prairie landscapes, breathtaking mountain scenes, evocative coastal landscapes and austere northern climates presents a stunning view of the West as they saw it.
The exhibition, and its accompanying book, mark the first time the Group’s Western Canadian work has been given such a focus. Though it was the Rocky Mountains that first beckoned the artists west, their travels took them to many places. They quickly discovered that the expansive regions west of Ontario offered much more than spectacular mountains. Lured by art commissions, teaching opportunities, new subjects, vacations and family visits, several of them returned on numerous occasions and some even made the West their home.
For many of the Group, the beauty of the Western landscape became a place of spiritual renewal and poetic potential, challenging their skills as artists and offering them new possibilities as painters. A sharp contrast to their urban lives, the pristine lands not yet harnessed for natural resources and industrial development seemed an idyllic, remote paradise.
Though their utopian views were indeed products of their time, the Group of Seven’s contributions greatly advanced the cause of visual art in Canada. Indeed, through their own art shows as well as society exhibitions such as the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, the Group’s art began to shape a vision of the West for many Canadians.
-Catharine Mastin, Glenbow Curator