Canadian artists

Discovering Canadian Artist Tom Thomson (or, I'm No Match for a Moose)

We set off in search of his (supposed) grave, but alas were thwarted by the tracks of what looked like a momma moose and her calf. D., intoxicated by the thrill of the hunt for Tom Thomson's resting place, was keen on pushing on, but this chicky was in no mood to meet a moose on foot and unarmed.

So our adventure came to an end - at least for now.


This past weekend we drove a few hours north for a lakeside getaway and some hiking in Ontario's Algonquin Park. The park, known among other things for its wildlife, wilderness and fall colours, was a source of inspiration for a group of painters who struggled "to free themselves from the artistic traditions of England" and "carve out a distinctly Canadian identity."* They were the Group of Seven.

D. and I quickly became interested in their counterpart and predecessor, Canadian artist Tom Thomson.

* The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson - An Introduction, by Anne Newlands

Spring Ice by Tom Thomson

Spring Ice by Tom Thomson

We didn't set out with the intention of immersing ourselves into the park's history and the life of its infamous painter, but once I mentioned that it would be neat to see where Thomson's mysterious death took place, D. was on the case!

Using his uncanny Googling abilities, D. found out that Thomson was buried at an old gravesite in the woods along Canoe Lake, where he spent much time sketching and fishing (though whether the grave actually contains his remains or those of someone else is apparently still debated). The next day, armed with a few online forum exchanges containing directions to the grave and shoddy cell phone reception, we set forth to find it on foot.

About three kilometers in and two kilometers away from our target - at least that's what we think, based on our calculations - we encountered moose tracks. The rest is history.

Moose track with my hand, for scale. It may not have been fresh, but I wasn't in the mood to find out!

Moose track with my hand, for scale. It may not have been fresh, but I wasn't in the mood to find out!

Of course D. was disappointed and I felt awful for bringing our adventure to an abrupt end, but all was not lost.

Although we didn't reach our final destination, the journey was fruitful:

We learned more about Thomson - D. about the mystery surrounding his death and I about his painting and relationship to the Group of Seven, i.e. that he died before they formed. I always thought he was part of the Group.

We discovered that there was a mill town called Mowat along Algonquin's Canoe Lake, once the largest town in the Park, that is now abandoned. Now we want to seek out its remains too.

We shared in adventure, discovery and learning. D. was practically giddy.

We hiked about six kilometers, which is more than we'd hiked in a long time.

Now that we have a better idea of where his grave is located, we have something to return to the next time we're up there.

So I guess it's true what they say, sometimes the journey can be just as good as the destination.

But the thrill of the hunt still beckons.

Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of Tom Thomson's mysterious death and both D. and I concur that finding that grave in the woods he loved so much would be a great way to commemorate it.

Assuming, of course, that the moose will let us get on our merry way.


Further resources:

Birthday List Love #3: Four Female Canadian Artists

Following a desire to learn more about female artists - and Canadian artists in general, these four have captured my interest lately.

Their use of shapes and colour appeals to me and with the exception of Maud Lewis, their work is of a style and era that appeals to me overall which makes them all the more interesting in my eyes.

Each one really warrants her own post and study, but for now, I offer you this cursory introduction.


Maud Lewis

Maud Lewis was a Canadian folk artist from Nova Scotia, “Canada’s own Grandma Moses.” Despite having to overcome some pretty severe physical circumstances, she produced paintings that evoke a joyful simplicity and nostalgia. Maybe that’s why I like them.

Covered Bridge with Three Sleighs, by Maud Lewis, circa 1965

If you have 10 minutes, a 1976 short film called Maud Lewis: A World Without Shadows offers insight into her life and outlook (via Canada’s National Film Board website).

Her story inspires and is a great reminder that fodder for art can be found right in our own back yard!


3 Women from the Beaver Hall Group:

Prudence Heward, Anne Savage and Lilias Torrance Newton

The next three women on my list were part of a Canadian group of modernist painters from Montreal formed in the 1920s, called the Beaver Hall Group. I've been reading a lot about the group these past several weeks and may dedicate a post to it in its entirety later, but in the meantime I'd like to highlight the three women below whose work caught my attention.

Prudence Heward

When I saw a photo of Heward's Sisters of Rural Quebec it immediately reminded me of another favourite female artist of mine, Tamara de Lempicka, so of course I was hooked. Many of her pieces involve bold and expressive figures coupled with rich colours. The Art Canada Institute offers a good glimpse at her work here, this is one of my favourites:

Rollande, by Prudence Heward, 1929

Anne Savage

I just finished reading a most delightful biography of Anne Savage (Anne Savage: the story of a Canadian painter, 1977) that complements what I'm learning about her in more academically inclined books. An “innovator in art education”, she taught art in Montreal for 26 years all the while breaking new ground with her own work. She seems like someone I would have liked to have met.

The Plough is one of her most-known pieces (link also includes a good bio) and I am absolutely smitten by Lake Wonish (for Don) that she painted shortly after her brother died in WWI. Unfortunately, I can't for the life of me find an image of the latter online, but I will make up for it by offering you a soothing yet striking piece called Country Scene:

Country Scene, by Anne Savage, 1920

Lilias Torrance Newton

Having a penchant for painting portraits it's no surprise that I like Lilias Torrance Newton's work. She was mainly a portraitist, with a modern bent. If I had to compare her work to Heward's and Savage's I'd say that it has a more muted quality, but it's by no means less expressive. In 1957 Torrance Newton painted portraits of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the first known Canadian commissioned to make a portrait of either subject.

Though there are more colourful portraits of hers out there, this particular one, Louis Muhlstock, caught my eye. I find it captivating.

Louis Muhlstock, by Lilias Torrance Newton, circa 1937


There is much, much more to discover about these four artists and there are many more female and Canadian artists to discover above and beyond this list.

What I’ve offered here is but a name and a few links to perhaps whet your appetite - and mine.


Did you miss out on previous Birthday List Love posts? No worries, voici:

Birthday List Love #1: Favourite Recipes

Birthday List Love #2: Personal Finance Books by Gail Vaz-Oxlade

Stay tuned for List #4!