Recognize this raven? It’s Emily Carr’s signature piece. It gained fame on a Canadian stamp. It’s part of the 100 Masters exhibit currently on view at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Emily Carr is always a great favorite with the school children I take on tours at the gallery. I show them pictures of her camping out in the woods in the little white caravan she nicknamed Elephant. She has her pet monkey Woo on her shoulder and her large menagerie of pets gathered around her. In her book Klee Wyck Carr describes the scene that inspired The Raven. It was one of a pair of wooden birds she saw standing on either side of a British Columbia First Nations village-dwelling that had once housed people dying of small pox. The raven was moss-covered, old and rotting, sheltered from the wind by the trees around it. In her painting Emily brings the raven back to prominence and beauty for us.
The Winnipeg Free Press review of the 100 Masters show noted that the pieces of Canadian art in the exhibit are its greatest strength. In the gallery called The Group of Seven and the Canadian Identity pieces by Canadian artists working in the first half of the 1900’s are displayed. Here are just a few of my favorites in that gallery.
Nicolson chose to paint these Canadian army generals as they prepared to pose for a formal portrait. Behind them is a mural showing the devastation caused during the World War I Battle of Ypres that took the lives of 70,000 soldiers. The artist’s own son was killed in the war and he began this painting only a few months later. William Nicolson also designed the sets for the 1904 theatre production of Peter Pan and did the illustrations for the first edition of the children’s classic book The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams.
Emily Carr and Prudence Heward are two of only seven women in the entire 100 Masters exhibition and both were denied entry into the illustrious Group of Seven because they were women. This painting of Heward’s is such a study in contrasts. The two sisters are different ages, are dressed differently, have such different expressions on their faces and different hair styles and colors. One looks away, the other right at us.
There are so many large, lush and colorful paintings in this gallery by the talented Group of Seven but my favorite is this smaller piece depiciting Algonquin Park in winter by Tom Thompson. I only recently learned that the Group of Seven ( an association of artists who were the first to paint Canada’s great outdoors by actually going outdoors to observe nature first hand) were sometimes called the Algonquin School because Tom Thompson took them to Algonquin Park to paint in different seasons. Sadly Tom Thompson died in Algonquin Park when his canoe tipped. He didn’t live to see the fame of his fellow Algonquin Park painters. The story of his mysterious death is one the kids on my middle school tours find fascinating.
Fitzgerald is not the most recognizable member of the Group of Seven but he is special because he’s from Manitoba. Although born in Winnipeg his family came from Snowflake, Manitoba and he frequently went back there to sketch. It is where his ashes were scattered after he died. He had his first exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 1921 and sold enough of his paintings to have money to study in New York for six months. Poplar Woods was painted the same year Fitzgerald became the principal of the Winnipeg School of Art. The kids I take on tours often think the painting looks like a mystical forest from a science fiction or fantasy movie.
When you visit the Hundred Masters exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery be sure to spend time in the Canadian Identity Room . If you’re like me it will be hard to pick out a favorite painting.
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