tom thomson and the group of seven at dulwich

7 January 2012 § Leave a comment

A few years ago I was in Toronto (I think – or was it Montreal?) and exploring the city’s fine art gallery stumbled across Tom Thomson and ‘The Group of Seven‘. It was hardly ground-breaking stuff – largely comprising impressionistic landscapes of wild Canadian landscapes – but they had a vibrancy of colour and originality of style that made them stand out. I even bought the book (Tom Thomson & the Group of Seven by David Silcox). In Canada these works are national treasures and the artists revered as the country’s finest.

So why have we never heard of them in the UK? I guess that they have long been rather unfashionable. After all, over in Europe in the first half of the 20th century it was the flowering of the avant-garde – more new ‘-isms’ than you could shake a stick at and certainly more that you could keep track of and understand. Meanwhile over in Canada a bunch of, largely, European exiles were seemingly style-wise stuck at the *rse end of the previous century. They painted in plein air using a style that combined various aspects of the impressionists and post impressionists –  a bit of Seurat here, Cezanne there and Monet over here. 

They did however also bring something more – from the symbolists, Northern Europeans like Munch and others like Hodler. More awe of nature, respect for the sublime and a touch of religion no doubt. Painting from the early 1910’s and inspired by Thomson, a loosely connected group formed in 1920, and although they drifted apart in the early 1930’s they had by then between them created a distinguishable ‘Canadian’ style which undeniably reflects the wildernes and open space of the country. The gallery promotes this exhibition as a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to see these works in the UK. It may well be. 

The exhibition closes this weekend on the 8th of January (don’t complain – I did warn you it was on its was some 6 months ago) and, unless you are a City or United fan watching the Manchester derby, I cannot think of many better things to do than pop down to the Dulwich picture gallery to pass a dull and grey winter day.

Read a more comprehensive history and review from the Standard’s Brian Sewell here.

The Dulwich Picture gallery until 8 January 2012.


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