3 February 2012

Painting Canada

A.Y. Jackson: Winter, Quebec, 1926 (National Gallery of Canada. Courtesy of the Estate of the late Dr. Naomi Jackson Groves. Photo © NGC)

F.H. Varley: Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay, 1921 (© Varley Art Gallery / Town of Markham. Photo © NGC)

Tom Thomson: The Jack Pine, 1916–1917 (National Gallery of Canada. Photo © National Gallery of Canada).

Franz Johnston: The Fire Ranger, ca. 1921 (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Photo © NGC)

The images are made available for the press at the National Gallery's website.

HM Queen Sonja Norway attended the opening of the exhibition "Painting Canada. Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven" at the National Gallery (a department of The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design) in Oslo on Thursday 26 January 2012. She was accompanied by the charge d'affaires at the Canadian embassy in Oslo, Gilles Normann, the vice director of the National Gallery of Canada, Karen Colby-Stothard, curator at the National Gallery of Canada Charles Hill, director of Dulwich Picture Gallery, Ian Dejardin, besides representatives of the National Museum/National Gallery in Oslo.

I visited the exhibition on Sunday 29 January and really enjoyed it. I visit art exhibitions from time to time, but more often while I am on vacation abroad. But I was attracted to this particular exhibition because of its topic - I must admit that I have got a soft spot for Canada ever since my visits to Canada in 2006 and 2008. At the moment I am improving my knowledge of USA's big, little brother by reading the 6th edition of A Short History of Canada by Desmond Morton (Kindle Edition, 2008). Another reason for my interest in Canada is that I also had relatives who lived there: My great-uncle Herulf Ekeli (1905-1983), who settled in Ontario, but I haven't been able to find out too many details about him, and my great grandfather's younger brother Salve Trygsland (1874-1964), who was a farmer at Youngstown, Alberta, and is buried at Cottrell Cemetery in Cereal. Neither of them got their own family in Canada, though. It should be added that Queen Sonja's uncle Halvor "Havven" Haraldsen (1893-1970) and his wife Inger Elisabeth "Lisbeth" Haraldsen, née Rydgren (1904-1994) lived at Fredericton, New Brunswick, for many years, but are buried together with Sonja's parents at Ris cemetery in Oslo.

But back to the exhibition again! According to the press release it presents works by the most important pioneers of Canadian landscape painting from the early years of the 20th century. The love the painters - Tom Thomson (1877-1917) and the group of seven, Lawren Harris (1885-1970), J.E.H. MacDonald (1873-1932), A.Y. Jackson (1882-1974), Franklin Carmichael (1890-1945), Frederick Horsman Varley (1881-1969), Frank Johnston (1888-1949) and Arthur Lismer (1885-1969) - had of their homeland "encouraged them to explore the wilderness of Canada's national parks". The Group of Seven - they begun to exhibit collectively in 1920 and got their great breakthrough at the British Empire Exhibition in London in 1924 - laid the foundations for Canadian modernism, and were inspired by their counterparts in Scandinavia and the "dream of the Nordic".

The exhibition is put together by the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, which I visited in 2008, and the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London and shows more than 120 paintings from major museums and collections in Canada and thus provides a representation of this particular chapter of Canadian modernism. The exhibition in Oslo lasts until 13 May. Before that the British could enjoy the paintings at the Dulwich Picture Gallery from 19 October 2011 to 8 January 2012
, and after Oslo the exhibition moves on to Groningen (3 June-28 October 2012).

Now, I have never studied arts history, so please don't expect me to go into depth about different styles and periods. I just enjoyed this exhibition because of its topic and the period it represented and because it was well organised with good introductions to the different artists. The paintings showed magnificent landscapes, but were fortunately not photographic representations. It was something about the colours and the light that particularly appealed to me. Tom Thomson is of course an example of this - A Northern Lake (c. 1916), Birches (several paintings!), Northern Lights (1916 or 1917), Path behind Mowat Lodge (1917) and Spring in Algonquin Park to mention a few. Franklin Carmichael's Autumn Hillside (1920), October Gold (1922; just think about the wonderful title!), Lawren Harris's Trees and Pool (1920), Frank Johnston's The Fire Ranger (1921; see above) and Serenity, Lake of the Woods (1922), MacDonald's Fall, Montreal River (1920) and Jackson's Winter, Quebec (1926; see above) were other favourites. Lawren Harris's paintings of the Canadian north and Arctic were very different in style from the others, but the light was wonderful! One example is Albert Harbour, North Baffin Island from 1930. Don't miss out on this!

Along with the exhibition goes the catalogue with the same title, Painting Canada, Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, which gives a great introduction to the painters and the period they represented and with a wonderful gallery attached. The price is only NOK 198. ISBN: 978-0-85667-686-4.

See also the reviews of the exhibition in London by The Guardian and The Telegraph as well as the blog Making a Mark.

Updated on Saturday 4 February 2012 at 11:40 (links added). last time updated on Monday 13 April 2015 at 00.25 (small error corrected).


  1. Hello Dag,

    I had the pleasure of seeing an exhibit of Tom Thompson and The Group of Seven at the National Gallery. I am not an expert regarding painting, so all I can say is that I enjoyed the pictures and they evoked a wonderful feeling of the beautiful Canadian outdoors.

  2. Looking at it really feels nice. Great art works. Congrats to the artists.
    Painters Markham