A Cache of Group of Seven paintings
Stephen Borys, Director & CEO, exhibition curator
Driving on the expressway from Toronto to Kleinburg to visit the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, I tried to remember how long it had been since the multi-lane highway had replaced the route I used to take as a student at the University of Toronto, which passed by farmers’ fields and groves of trees. It was our goal to borrow five Canadian paintings from the McMichael for the 100 Masters exhibition. Recently appointed director, Victoria Dickinson (who had spent two years in Winnipeg at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights as Chief Knowledge Officer) was swift to suggest some of the stars of the collection. We discussed the highly successful international touring exhibition Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, which had opened to record crowds at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London in late 2011. Featuring many of the Group’s signature works, it would be presented at the McMichael in January 2013. Given the demands of the exhibition tour and extended loans, I was aware of what might not be available for 100 Masters.
However, I was pleased when Victoria’s list included a few of the McMichael treasures on the international tour. After selecting two dazzling landscapes by A. Y. Jackson and Franklin Carmichael, I had the challenging but pleasurable task of picking works by Lawren S. Harris and Tom Thomson. I went back and forth between Thomson’s Byng Inlet, Georgian Bay and In Algonquin Park, both painted in 1914, a seminal year for the artist and the Group—and the Canadian art scene. Thinking of the works of his contemporaries that were in the show, and the seasons and locales depicted, I ended up choosing the image of Algonquin Park. The picture sums up what is at once plain and majestic about the winter landscape and Thomson’s ability to capture the Canada of our imagination through his art.
I had been considering two works by Lawren S. Harris from the MacKenzie Art Gallery and the Mendel Art Gallery, but after viewing his Icebergs, Davis Strait in the McMichael collection, painted in 1930, I made the decision to take the McMichael work. Looking back, I still lose sleep over which Harris was the right one for the show, but I’ll leave that assessment to the audience. Content with the Group of Seven works on the list, I looked at several paintings by David Milne, and selected his Blue Church from 1920.
Tom Thomson, Canadian, 1877–1917, In Algonquin Park I, 1914. Oil on canvas, 63.2 x 81.1 cm. Gift of the Founders, Robert and Signe McMichael in Memory of Norman and Evelyn McMichael, 1966.
16.76. Lent by: McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg