The Group of Seven – Canada’s most notable art movement?


The Group of Seven, also known as the Algonquin School, was a group of Canadian landscape painters from 1920 to 1933, originally consisting of Franklin Carmichael (1890–1945), Lawren Harris (1885–1970), A. Y. Jackson (1882–1974), Frank Johnston (1888–1949), Arthur Lismer (1885–1969), J. E. H. MacDonald (1873–1932), and Frederick Varley (1881–1969). Later, A. J. Casson (1898–1992) was invited to join in 1926; Edwin Holgate (1892–1977) became a member in 1930; and LeMoine FitzGerald (1890–1956) joined in 1932.

Group of Seven

A.Y. Jackson

Believing that a distinct Canadian art could be developed through direct contact with nature,the Group of Seven is best known for its paintings inspired by the Canadian landscape, and is often considered to have initiated the first major Canadian national art movement.


Tom Thomson who technically preceded the group is often considered to have been its founding member. His work “The Jack pine” 1916-17, seen above is considered by many to be one of the groups most pivotal works.

I recently read a book called Beyond Wilderness which presents a collection of essays prepared by the editors in response to “The Group of Seven: Art of a Nation” exhibit held at the National Gallery of Canada in 1995.

The intention of the editors is to argue against the widely held conception that The Group of Seven and their landscape paintings are uniquely tied to the visual representation of Canada and Canadian identity itself. This book outlines the role the Group of Seven are seen to have played in tying Canada’s northern and wilderness landscapes and nature to its identity. They carry on to largely debunk this concept by arguments made by many of Canada’s top curators, art historians, and cultural critics. While the Group of Seven were widely seen as the first Canadian movement to push away from traditional European art, some key arguments arranged in this book point to the fact that the group were simply following western trends in painting wilderness, and were doing so using modern European styles that were being commonly explored at that time. The book also points to the fact that the Group were largely promoted by the National Gallery.

The editors also seem to make the case that the Group’s exclusion of indigenous, French and non-European immigrant culture in fact make their work unrepresentative of Canadian identity. The book goes on to explore contemporary art following the Group’s work (after the 1960’s), in particular landscape depictions that have aspired to capture the technological and cultural changes in Canada, and which  challenge the notion of what defines the Canadian landscape in art.

While the book seems to at times point to the Group’s work as being a stain on the representation of the Canadian landscape and identity, its arguments do not provide any clear challengers to the Group’s legacy of being the art of a nation, and cites some references to support their legacy as being more popular than ever.


Lawren Harris, Mt. LeFoy


Arthur Lismer, “A September Gale Georgian Bay”, 1921



O’Brian, John & White, Peter (2007; 2006). Beyond Wilderness: The Group of Seven, Canadian Identity, and Contemporary Art, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Canada. [accessed 23-12-15] [accessed 23-12-15]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.