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Exhibition devoted to Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven opens in London
Canada's new ambassador to Britain, former British Columbia premier Gordon Campbell, views paintings by artist Lawren Harris at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London. The gallery is hosting Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven from October 19, 2011 to January 8, 2012. It is the first time that the works, considered national treasures in Canada, have been shown in the United Kingdom since 1925. REUTERS/Chris Helgren.

LONDON.- Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven is organised 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.

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).

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