Saturday, August 22, 2015

Tom Thomson

The West Wind
oil on canvas
120.7 × 137.2 cm
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada

Thomas John Thomson (Tom Thomson 1877-1917) was an influential Canadian artist of the early 20th century. He is best known as an interpreter of the Canadian wilderness. He directly influenced a group of Canadian painters that would come to be known as the Group of Seven, and though he died before they formally formed, he is sometimes incorrectly credited as being a member of the group itself.

He was born at Claremont, Ontario, not far from Toronto but was brought up at Leith on the shores of Georgian Bay. After an unpromising beginning as a machinist, he worked as a photoengraver in Seattle, Wash., from 1901 to 1904. In 1907 he joined the art department of Grip Limited in Toronto, where several of the men who after World War I formed the Group of Seven worked, among them J. E. H. MacDonal.

His first large canvas was A Northern Lake, which was exhibited in the Annual Exhibition of the Ontario Society of Artists in 1913 and was bought, much to the artist's surprise, by the Ontario government. Thereafter, he dropped his career as a commercial artist and devoted himself to painting.

Each year, with growing mastery, he charted the changing seasons in Algonquin Park with a steady stream of sketches, from dazzling impressions of sunlight on snow in March, the breakup of the ice in spring, the flaming sunsets and northern lights of summer, to the pageantry of autumn's reds and golds and the gathering snow clouds over the bleak November landscape. The flat pattern, swinging line, and rich texture of the larger pictures reflect the influence of the Art Nouveau style then in vogue; but in the original sketches the strong color, bold design, and rapid brushwork have a conviction and expressive force never equaled in paintings of the Canadian northland.

Tragedy struck in the summer of 1917. In July, he set off for a day's fishing on Canoe Lake. His upturned canoe was found that evening. The West Wind was the artist's final painting, and according to some art historians was unfinished at the time of his sudden death by drowning in 1917.