Mesmerized and inspired by the stunning landscapes of Algonquin Park and the Canadian wilderness, Tom Thomson and the paintes known as The Group of Seven went into the wilds as voyageurs, carrying their canvas and paints, to discover and reveal their own ideals for Canadian art.
They met while working as commercial artists at various Toronto printing firms, where they specialized in graphic design for advertisements. On weekends they would take sketching trips together, painting scenes around the city and discussing the art world. In the summer of 1912, after visiting Huntsville, Muskoka, Ontario that spring, Tom Thomson went to Canada's Algonquin Park just north of Toronto to paint the landscape. Upon his return, his friends were so inspired by the work he created there, they started to join his annual summer sketching trips to Algonquin Park, where they would spend a few weeks inside the park canoeing, portaging and painting the scenery as well.
At this time, in the early 20th century, painting outside the accepted realm of realism was critically rejected and shunned by most art dealers in Canada. These painters set out to stretch the limitations and restrictions facing Canadian artists, and their works and ideals sparked debates about a new art form – debates that would last twenty years.
In 1917 with World War I, these friends were scattered across the globe. Some were hired by the Canadian War Records Department to paint the actions of the Canadian troops in Europe. Thomson, being ineligible to go into military service, spent that summer in Algonquin Park. In previous years he had been a ranger, firefighter, and guide, but found that these activities interfered with his ability to produce more art. Thomson intended to paint one painting every day that year to document the changing of the seasons, however he drowned unexpectedly in Canoe Lake, Algonquin Park, on July 8th, 1917 before he could complete his own challenge. The news of his tragic death devastated his companions, who considered that a great light had extinguished in the world of art with his passing.
After WWI the artists reconvened in Toronto and formed a collective called the Group of Seven, intending to put up a united front to the negative reactions to their work. Their first show was in 1920 and included some of Thomsonʼs canvases. The Group then spread out, painting all corners of Canada and uniting the nation through their art. With the passing of founding member J.E.H. MacDonald in 1932, the Group disbanded, leaving an indelible mark on the Canadian psyche.
With Algonquin Park as their school ground, The Group of Seven created astonishing worksthat are a legacy to our Canadian cultural identity. They inspired generations of young artists to experience the wilderness for themselves and to express themselves freely. Their struggle to change the opinion of what art should be was inspired by their high-spirited camaraderie, and their belief in Canada as a young and vital country.