Art Movements

Exploring the art of the Group of Seven

Thursday: Exploring Different Types of Art

Today we are going to briefly discuss the Group of Seven.

Snow Clouds by Carmichael by 1938

The most important thing a painter can do is find a good place to sit.

– J.E.H. MacDonald

Who are the Group of Seven? They were a group of Canadian landscape painters in the 1920’s. They were self-proclaimed modern artists. There influence is wide-spread.

What are they most known for?  They used bright colors, tactile paint, and simple but dynamic forms to transform the landscapes they painted such as the Canadian shield, boreal forest, and countless lakes. They used heavy impasto (created texture). Their artwork had similar lines.

They were rebelling against the constraints of 19th century naturalism and tried to establish a more independent relationship between art and nature. They shifted their emphasis from similitude (imitation of natural effects) towards an expression of their feelings for their subjects.

Who were the members? The original members include Lawren Harris, A. Y. Jackson, Franklin Carmichael, Arthur Lismer, Frank Johnston, Frederick Varley, and J. E. H. MacDonald. Two other people closely associated with the group are Emily Carr and Tom Thomson who died in 1917; but neither were ever official members.

They were followed by the formation of the Canadian Group of Painters in the 1930’s.

Thomson, MacDonald,  Lismer, A.J. (Alfred Joseph) Casson, Varley,  Johnston, and Carmichael met while working at a design firm. They made their livings as commercial artists. In 1913, they were joined by Jackson and Harris. They would often meet at the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto to discussion their opinions and share their art.

Who supported them? They received monetary support from Harris (heir to Massey-Harris farm machinery fortune) and Dr. James MacCallum. They jointly built a studio building that would serve as a meeting and working place for the new Canadian art movement. MacCallum owned land on Georgian Bay and Thomson worked as a guide in Algonquin Park; these were places that served the artists as inspiration for their artwork.

History of the group: The informal group was temporarily split up during World War 1 since Varley and Jackson became official war artists.

In 1917, Thomson died while canoeing in Algonquin Park. His death is a mystery since he appeared to have suffered a head drown and no evidence he drowned.

After the war the original group was reunited. They traveled throughout Ontario in particular the Algoma and Muskoka areas. During this time they sketched the landscape and developed techniques to represent it in art. In 1919, they called themselves the Group of Seven and by 1920 they put together an exhibition at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now known as the Art Gallery of Ontario). The exhibition had mixed reviews.

Johnston left the group in 1921 to become principal of the School of Art in Winnipeg, Manitoba; and A.J. Casson was deemed his replacement in 1926. Casson was a watercolorist.

After Harris traveled to Lake Superior in 1921, he simplified the colour and layouts of his paintings. By the mid-1920’s, his works continued to be simplified and were nearly monochromatic. Ten years later, he was the first member to turn to abstraction.

Clouds Lake Superior by Harris in 1923


Lismer, Varley, and MacDonald became distinguished teachers. Lismer established a successful children’s art programs in North America. MacDonald was a teacher at the Ontario College of Art. After MacDonald’s death, a volume of poetry was published.

Members of the group traveled throughout Canada for inspiration including Nova Scotia, Quebec, British Columbia, and the Arctic.

The group’s influence continued to spread and after their eighth exhibition at the end of 1931; they disbanded which led to the formation of the Canadian Group of Painters.

Who influenced the Group of Seven? European Impressionism of the late nineteenth century in the Montmartre district of Paris.


Group of Seven

Art Encyclopedia

Group of Seven in Ontario

In search of the group of Seven


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