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Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven exhibition makes its triumphant return to Canada
J.E.H. MacDonald (1873-1932), Cathedral Mountain, 1927, Oil on paperboard, 21.4 x 26.6 cm, Gift of Mr. R.A. Laidlaw, McMichael Canadian Art Collection.

KLEINBURG, ON.- The McMichael Canadian Art Collection in conjunction with London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery and the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) announced the most impressive exhibition dedicated to Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven ever to travel to Great Britain and Europe will return to Canada for an exclusive engagement at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, from November 3, 2012 to January 6, 2013.

Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven is organized by the National Gallery of Canada and Dulwich Picture Gallery, in collaboration with the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo, and the Groninger Museum, the Netherlands, with the generous support of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and other 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.

Dr. Victoria Dickenson, McMichael Executive Director & CEO, said, “It is a great privilege to be able to exhibit Painting Canada at the McMichael. The art of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven is at the core of the McMichael’s collection, and this outstanding exhibition lets us appreciate the artists’ mastery and vision from a fresh perspective, thanks to curator Ian Dejardin’s unique insights. We are also very grateful to all the lenders, public and private, whose generous loans have made this exhibition possible.”

"RBC Wealth Management is honoured to continue as the presenting sponsor of Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, upon the exhibition's successful return to Canada," said George Lewis, Group Head of RBC Wealth Management. "The exhibition was enthusiastically received while in Europe, a testament to the relevance and influence of these iconic works on the world stage."

The presentation of this outstanding exhibition in Canada would not be possible without the generous financial support of our sponsors, patrons and funding agencies. They have been tremendously supportive of this project and in fact, RBC Wealth Management and AIMIA helped to make the European tour a reality and we are thrilled they are continuing their invaluable financial support with the presentation of the exhibition at the McMichael. As well, the McMichael is grateful to have the support of its Exhibition Patron, the A.K. Prakash Foundation.

“The Trustees of the A.K. Prakash Foundation are pleased to provide support for this exhibition at the McMichael. The Foundation is committed to promoting the critical role of historical Canadian art in defining who we are as a society and expressing Canadian identity in an increasingly global context,” said Ash Prakash, Chairman of the A.K. Prakash Foundation.

Ian Dejardin, Director at Dulwich Picture Gallery, said, “These artists produced some of the most vibrant and beautiful landscapes of the 20th 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 five years) is extraordinary. He is Canada’s very own Van Gogh. We were thrilled with the public response to this exhibition and in fact, the exhibition broke records for the largest single day attendance in our history.”

“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. “Not only did this exhibition break records for attendance and gift shop sales in Dulwich, but it was widely praised in both the British mainstream and art press alike and went on to delight audiences in Norway and the Netherlands.”

Painting Canada features 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 was the largest in history to travel to Europe featuring an astonishing 122 paintings, as well as Tom Thomson’s sketch box.

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 the First World War 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 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.

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