About the Exhibition
Tom Thomson is often wrongly assumed to have been a member of the Group of Seven. He almost certainly would have been had he not died too soon. Although forever enshrined in Canadian legend as a young man—he was thirty-nine when he died—he would in fact have been the second eldest of the Group, after J.E.H. MacDonald, but he found his artistic voice late. He worked as a commercial artist under MacDonald at Grip Ltd., and it was the older artist who encouraged him to take painting seriously.
Thomson travelled to Algonquin Park for the first time in 1912, returning every summer thereafter. His career as a serious artist really lasted only three or four years, hitting its stride in 1914 when Dr. James MacCallum made an offer (also made to A.Y. Jackson) to underwrite his living expenses. This generosity allowed Thomson to concentrate fully on his art, and he became one of the first artists to share a studio, with Jackson, in the newly built Studio Building in January 1914. Later he moved into the wooden shack nearby (now reconstructed at the McMichael), where he was to spend his winters painting.
By the end of 1914, Thomson was beginning to disconcert the much more experienced Jackson with the brilliance of his oil sketches, and over the next couple of years he electrified his friends with hundreds of those dazzling sketches, while producing a handful of large-scale works that have become Canadian icons.
Despite his considerable reputation as an outdoorsman, canoeist, and Algonquin guide, Thomson drowned in Canoe Lake in July 1917 in circumstances that have remained mysterious ever since. His loss was a true tragedy for Canadian art and was keenly felt by his friends, but his influence proved fundamental to the founding of the Group of Seven in 1920.
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