Like many institutions across the country, the McMichael faces the challenging task of making its art collection relevant to our community and to our lives in the twenty-first century. The goal is to preserve the story of the collection and the art of the original and extended members of the Group of Seven, while weaving in the stories of the founders and the donors of the collection. The challenge is also to represent and interpret the next generation of Canadian artists, and to honour the work of First Nations and Inuit artists, both historical and contemporary.
With this in mind, the newly installed permanent collection is designed to mark the ninetieth anniversary of the Group of Seven’s first exhibition in May 1920, while looking at their primal source of inspiration—the Canadian landscape. There is no theme more central to the Canadian identity than the land. Through the collective voice of several generations of Canadian artists, the newly designed installation of the permanent collection presents three distinct variations on the theme of the land as artistic muse: the pure solitary force of nature; the structured or inhabited place; and the imaginary landscape. Additionally, a selection of works by contemporary artists creates contrasts or dialogues with elements of our permanent collection to highlight issues ranging from climate change to humanitarian missions on our planet Earth.
Undeniably, the members of the Group of Seven attempted to capture and convey what it felt like to hear the sound of the wind or the thunder of the approaching storm, to smell the scent of the forest or the freshness of the air, to sense the movement of water and clouds. In works depicting nature at its purest and most solitary, such as Aurora, Georgian Bay by J.E.H. MacDonald or Canadian Jungle by Arthur Lismer, the message is easily understood.
The essence of place is further explored through the work of David Milne, Emily Carr, and their Quebec counterparts such as John Lyman and Jean Paul Lemieux, to mention but a few.
The familiar scenes of lakes with canoes, cabins tucked away in the woods, picturesque small towns in Ontario or Quebec, hikers dotting mountain scenery are all easily associated with the work by the Group of Seven. The idea of the structured or inhabited landscape will focus on the issue of urban and rural life.
Some examples in this section will show the close proximity in which natural and artificial environments coexist, while others show how harmony is traded for urban chaos. Night Ferry, Vancouver by F.H. Varley is an example of an imaginary landscape. In it, the artist combines his memory of Vancouver with images of Toronto and New York. Varley has always been regarded as the odd yet more expressive member of the Group, who often received the harshest reviews from his fellow artists for this very expressive quality.
The inclusion of paintings by other artists more recently added to the collection, examine the ways in which other Canadian artists respond to the myth of the art and the legacy of the Group of Seven. For many artists of the following generations, the Group’s art provides a common ground for debate and exploration of topics ranging from national identity, regionalism, reaction to landscape, diversity and cultural differentiation. Inclusion of paintings, such as Marguerite Pilot of Deep River (Girl with Mulleins) by Yvonne McKague Housser, challenge the traditional barriers associated with the Group and will assert the role of women artists, First Nations and Inuit artists within our collection.
Our new installation of the permanent collection is a dynamic manifestation of who we are, our collective past, and our aspirations as a vibrant, diverse nation. By taking the pulse of the new while still attending to the legacy of our founders, we will ensure the continuing contributions of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection to the ongoing study and appreciation of Canadian art, both historical and contemporary.
A.Y. Jackson, (1882–1974)
oil on wood panel
32.6 x 40.7 cm
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. S. Walter Stewart
McMichael Canadian Art Collection
Lawren S. Harris, (1885–1970)
In the Ward, 1920
oil on wood
27 x 34 cm
Purchased with funds donated by Mr. R.A. Laidlaw
McMichael Canadian Art Collection