Canada New Vision of Lakeland Glory

In July of 1917 – twenty-two years ago this month – Tom Thomson, Canadian artist, was drowned at Canoe Lake, Algonquin Park. He was but forty years old, and only the last four of them were devoted to painting the amazingly original and colorful pictures which helped to usher in the dawn of a new era for Canadian art. “New era” is not an exaggeration. Despite the hilarious scoffing, the cheap sneers and honest wrath which greeted the efforts of the valiant Group of Seven to depict Canadian light, color and life instead of borrowing these qualities from Europe, the influence of the Group, of which Thomson was perhaps the main inspiration, continues to grow and add abundant riches to native art. […]

Startled by success

Tom Thomson exhibited his first canvas, “A Northern Lake,” at a display by the Ontario Society of Artists in 1913. It was a revelation of the true native feeling and freshness of the Lakeland that is ours. But when the picture was immediately purchased by the Ontario Government Thomson was startled rather than surprised. And for four years thereafter he produced those far-famed pictures which stamp him as an outstanding contributor to and significant influence on Canadian art.

He was not the pioneer painter of the northern Lakeland. Pictures of that rugged and virile beauty had been set on canvas before and had their own appeal. But it was Thomson who first caught the subtle moods and changes of that northland and was able to translate those subtleties into the language of form and color. He was a lyric poet who made his rhymes with pigment and his rhythms with the stroke of a brush.

Spell of the northland

So, you who trek to the lakeland for vacation days, behold its glories through the eyes of the seer, Tom Thomson. That gnarled and twisted jack pine on the rocky lake shore is the high priest of the west wind that blows the lake to foam-flecks. Spruce by the river becomes a lace pattern through which the stream beckons you to stand and admire. And, if you but pause to ponder, the bright gold of the young tamarack, the black and somber spruce, the vivid blues of lake and stream and the gaudy purple of the hills are all there, even as Thomson saw these shades from dawn to sunset, and from sunset to the witchery of moonlight. Only it needs the slow and quiet pace of a woodland walk and not the speeding of an automobile to absorb this feast of color. A walk through the woodland; a slow-paddled canoe; these are the means to see the beauties of color, to be attuned to the moods and enter into the peace of the northern wilds, as Tom Thomson, apostle of beauty did.

Source: Percy Grant, "Canada New Vision of Lakeland Glory," Evening Telegram, July 25, 1939

Return to parent page