A Centenary Celebration of the Group of Seven

Lawren S. Harris (1885-1970) Montreal River, c. 1920; oil on paperboard, 27 x 34.7 cm; Gift of the Founders, Robert and Signe McMichael; McMichael Canadian Art Collection

An Introduction to the Group of Seven

Canadian Landscape Painters, the group was formed in 1920 and consisted of seven members – hence the name: Group of Seven. Franklin CarmichaelLawren HarrisA.Y. JacksonFrank JohnstonArthur LismerJ.E.H. MacDonald and Frederick Varley.

Please Note: Tom Thomson (photo below) was never a member of the group, as he died (disappeared in northern Ontario, presumed drowned) before the group was formed, however he is often linked to the group. Emily Carr was also closely affiliated with the group.

MacDonald, Lismer, Varley, Johnston and Carmichael all met at Grip Limited – a design firm in Toronto. Jackson and Harris both became acquainted with the group when Lismer befriended them at the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto. This informal group was split up during World War I, when Jackson and Varley served as war artists.

Franklin Carmichael

Autumn Hillside – 1920
October Gold – 1922
Jackknife Village – 1926
Mirror Lake – 1929
A Northern Silver Mine – 1930
Bay of Islands – 1930
Scrub Oaks and Maples – 1935
La Cloche Panorama – 1939

Lawren Harris

The Corner Store – 1912
Algoma Hill – 1920
Above Lake Superior – 1922
Afternoon Sun, Lake Superior – 1924
Maligne Lake, Jasper Park – 1924
North Shore, Lake Superior – 1926
Lake and Mountains – 1928
Mount Robson from the North-East – 1929
North Shore, Baffin Island – 1930
Mount Thule, Bylot Island – 1930
Icebergs, Davis Strait – 1930
Abstract No. 7 – c.1939

A. Y. Jackson

The Edge of the Maple Wood – 1910
Terre Sauvage – 1913
Frozen Lake Early Spring Algonquin Park – 1914
The Red Maple – 1914
Entrance to Halifax Harbour – 1919
First Snow Algoma – 1919-20
March Storm Georgian Bay – 1920
Georgian Bay November – 1921
Night Pine Island – 1921
The Winter Road Quebec – 1921
Early Spring Quebec – 1923
Skeena Crossing – 1926
Grey Day Laurentians – 1928
The Beothic at Bache Post Ellesmere Island – c.1928
River, St Urbain – 1930
Winter Charlevoix County – 1932-33
Nellie Lake – 1933
Valley of the Gouffre River – 1933
Houses, St Urbain – c.1934
Algoma in November – 1935
Hills at Great Bear Lake – c.1953

Frank Johnston

Moose Pond – 1918
Patterned Hillside – 1918
Fire Swept Algoma – 1920
The Fire Ranger – c.1920
The Dark Woods Interior – c.1921
Serenity Lake of the Woods – 1922

Arthur Lismer

The Guide’s Home Algonquin – 1914
Winter Camouflage – 1918
A September Gale Georgian Bay – 1921
Forest Algoma – 1922
Isles of Spruce – 1922
Evening Silhouette – 1926
October North Shore Lake Superior – 1927
Cathedral Mountain – 1928
Glacier Above Moraine Lake – 1928
Old Pine McGregor Bay – c.1929
Bright Land – 1938

Once the war was over, the informal group reconvened and began to travel throughout Ontario. They sketched landscapes and developed different techniques to better their art. The group was greatly influenced by European Impressionism. It was in 1919 that they began to call themselves the Group of Seven – they couldn’t come up with a name, and so Harris dubbed them the “Group of Seven” and it stuck.

The group was initially funded by Harris – heir to the Massey-Harris fortune – and Dr. James MacCallum. Together they built the Studio Building to serve as a meeting and working place for the new Canadian art movement.

In 1920, the group had their first exhibition. At this time many people considered the Canadian landscape ugly and unworthy of being painted. They were proved wrong however over the next decade by the Group of Seven. The group became known as pioneers to a new Canadian art, finding new and different ways to portray the beauty of the landscapes.

Frank Johnston left the group in 1921 to pursue a job in Winnipeg and a new spot was open for a replacement artist. In 1926, A.J. Casson was added to the group. Members of the group began to travel further across Canada, some visited the west coast, while others went north to the arctic; they were the first artists of European descent to paint the arctic.

The Group of Seven’s last show took place in 1931; they had come to realize that people were more open to their art and no longer needed the group to stand up against criticism. In the following years a new group was formed: The Canadian Group of Painters, which included some of the original seven.

Today the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinberg, Ontario contains over six thousand pieces from the Group of Seven. Six of the artists are buried in an onsite graveyard at the Gallery.

“Seven Painters Show Some Excellent Work”

On May 7, 1920, a group of artists calling themselves the Group of Seven mounted their first formal exhibition at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the Art Gallery of Ontario). Approximately 2000 visitors passed through the doors during the exhibition’s three-week run. Of the more than 120 paintings on view, only six sold. “Seven Painters Show Some Excellent Work” read the headline in Toronto’s Daily Star newspaper, reflecting the moderate opinion of most critics. In a letter to his mother, painter A.Y. Jackson wrote that the exhibition was “attracting quite a lot of attention even if it is not understood.”

The group of seven artists whose pictures are here exhibited have for several years held a like vision concerning Art in Canada. They are all imbued with the idea that an Art must grow and flower in the land before the country will be a real home for its people. 
– Exhibition catalogue, May 1920

In commemoration of the centenary of that first exhibition, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection mounted a landmark exhibition of the group’s finest pieces from the McMichael’s permanent collection entitled “A Like Vision”The Group of Seven at 100 and running through 2021. The exhibition of more than 280 artworks will span five galleries and include beloved masterpieces by every member of the Group, including Jackson’s haunting First Snow, Algoma (1919/20), Carmichael’s autumnal symphony October Gold (1922), and Lawren Harris’ magisterial Mount Robson (1929). Alongside these masterworks will be lesser-known pieces by the Group including a series of humorous and impressionistic sketches by Arthur Lismer, many depicting his fellow artists, and Lawren Harris’s unassuming Montreal River (c. 1920), the first work acquired by Robert and Signe McMichael in 1955.

Celebrating the artistic legacy of Canada

Lawren S. Harris, Mt. Lefroy, 1930, oil on canvas, 133.5 x 153.5 cm, Purchase 1975, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 1975.7, (c) Family of Lawren S. Harris

The McMichael Canadian Art Collection, as it is known today, remains the spiritual home to the Group of Seven and a destination for all Canadians who cherish the artistic legacy of the country. The collection that grew out of the McMichaels’ personal devotion to Canadian art and their friendships with many Group members has grown to encompass a mandate to collect, protect and promote all of the art of Canada, but the original collection of work by the Group of Seven remains its foundational treasure.

“The Group of Seven not only translated what they saw into a vivid visual language of their own,” says Ian A.C. Dejardin, Executive Director of the McMichael, “but through that language they taught us to appreciate the natural beauty of Canada in all its vast scale and variety. Many Canadians continue to see the country through the Group’s eyes, and it is thrilling to have an occasion to share the breadth and richness of the McMichael’s collection with visitors on this seminal anniversary.”

“A Like Vision”: The Group of Seven at 100 is curated by McMichael Executive Director Ian A. C. Dejardin.

The exhibition has been financially assisted by the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund, a program of the Government of Ontario through the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, administered by the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund Corporation.  It is supported by Bolton Mills Retirement Community and the Group of Seven Circle of Supporters.