One of the most popular school tours we give at the Winnipeg Art Gallery is about Canada’s famous Group of Seven painters. This is Poplars by Lionel Fitzgerald the only Winnipeg and western member of the Group of Seven.
These artists formed a cooperative group in the 1920’s and 1930’s. They wanted to paint the Canadian landscape in a unique way, in a style that would be very different from the way European artists painted landscapes. The group wasn’t made up of exactly seven people all the time.
Right in the middle of the long narrow room at the Winnipeg Art Gallery which displays Group of Seven works; are two very different paintings of Lake Superior by two very different Group of Seven artists.
This one was done by Arthur Lismer, who was born in a British factory town to a family with a working class income. His family was very proud of him especially when he won a scholarship to an art high school. Lismer had to work very hard to keep up his grades while working at a part-time job to help pay his living expenses. After high school he won a scholarship to study art in Belgium.
This painting of Lake Superior was done by another member of the Group of Seven, Lawren Harris. He was born in Ontario into a very wealthy family, who had amassed a fortune making and selling farm equipment. Lawren’s mother encouraged his creativity and sent him to an expensive boarding school where he didn’t study much because he preferred sports like swimming and tennis. When he graduated his family paid for him to study art in Berlin, Germany.
Arthur Lismer came to Canada in 1911 because he couldn’t find a job in England and went to work for a design company in Toronto. He was an official war artist during World War I. He would have liked to paint more but had to squeeze in time to paint while working to support himself. A key member of the Group of Seven he is credited with coming up with their name. He was passionate about art education and taught at art schools in Canada and abroad. He wrote books about teaching art to students and ran art education programs at several different Canadian art galleries.
When Lawren Harris was tired of European living he came back to Canada in 1908. He was only in the army for a short time in World War I and then had to leave for medical reasons. He is known as the leader and founder of The Group of Seven. He had lots of time to paint since he lived off his inheritance. Painting was a spiritual experience for him. He felt that through his art he became a better person.
Lawren Harris and Arthur Lismer led very different lives and produced art work that is noticeably different; but they were both members of the Group of Seven and they both created unique Canadian landscapes that helped carve out a distinctive place in the international art world for Canadian artists and art.
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