Saturday, 2 November 2013



The autumn time has featured prevalently in the work from important periods during the careers of Canada’s influential artists of the 20th century. For the Group of Seven, a recurrent fall trip to the Algoma region in Ontario stands out. These trips were taken at a time when the Group of Seven members were strongly unified in their goals to create a distinct nationalistic style of landscape art. They were heavily under the influence and stylistic guidance of their recently deceased dear friend and fellow artist Tom Thomson. Armed with memories of their friend, the artists felt a strong sense of artistic purpose; therefore the work from their Algoma sketching trips can be considered quite artistically and emotionally charged. Thomson’s ability to convey the vivid colours and aura of the autumn had been exceptional. To this day, Thomson’s sketches of fall colours and foliage remain some of his most cherished and prized to collectors and museums.

In the autumn of 1918 Group of Seven members J.E.H. MacDonald, Lawren Harris and Frank Johnston, made the first of their renowned boxcar trips to Algoma with patron Dr. MacCallum. Lawren Harris was able to convince the Algoma Central Railway to lend them a boxcar, which was sidelined from the tracks at convenient sketching locations. The boxcar was used as lodgings and studio and was complete with bunks, tables and chairs, a stove, and painting materials. There was also a canoe and a handcar for short distance travel. The boxcar was bright red and numbered 10557 on the side in big black lettering. Over the doorway were mounted sprays of evergreen and the motto: Ars Longa Vita Brevis (meaning Art is Long, Life is Brief).

This first “boxcar” trip in September of that year began at the Agawa River Canyon. It was the first sketching stop on the route, and they stayed there to paint the autumnal scenery for many days. MacDonald in particular was captivated by the Algoma landscape. A.Y. Jackson later remarked, “I always think of Algoma as MacDonald’s country. He was awed by the landscape and he got the feel of it in his paintings.”

Also for Frank Johnston, during this stage of his career he is an enthusiastic participant in the endeavors of the forming Group of Seven. Johnston returned again in 1919 for the next boxcar sketching trip. In 1919 he showed sixty works in an Algoma Show, and in the first Group of Seven show he had more works entered than any of the other artists. Although Johnston did not remain officially connected with the Group of Seven after 1922, when he embarked on his own artistic pathway he still excelled at conveying the aura and atmosphere of the autumn in his paintings.

Harris’ work at Algoma is also quite distinct. In particular the stylized way within which Harris depicts the multi-coloured trees of the changing season is unique. He would continue to depict trees in this manner into the early stages of his Lake Superior period, before moving even further into stylization of the landscape.

Franklin Carmichael is another Group of Seven member whose talent thrived when he joined in on the second boxcar trip. Into the early 1920s some of Carmichael’s most refreshing and innovative works were autumn scenes, such as October Gold, 1922 and Autumn in Orillia, 1924.

By: Jill Turner

Photo Credits:

1. Tom Thomson. Autumn Tapestry. oil on panel. Sold at Masters Gallery, 2013.

2. Tom Thomson. The Pool.. oil on canvas. National Gallery of Canada.

3. JEH MacDonald. On Mitchell's Lake, Algoma, 1918 oil on panel. Private Collection, Masters Gallery, Ottawa, ON.

4. Frank Johnston. Spruce Sentinels, Algoma, Ont. 1918. Tempera on paper. 21.75 x 16

5. Frank Johnston. Agawa Canyon, Algoma, 1918 oil on panel. Sold at Masters Gallery, 2013

6. Lawren Harris. Lake Superior Sketch XC, circa 1921. oil on panel. 10.75 x 14 in. Sold Masters Gallery, 2013

7. Franklin Carmichael. Autumn scene from Masters Gallery past highlights archive.

8. Franklin Carmichael. October Gold, 1922 oil on canvas. The McMichael Collection of Canadian Art, Kleinberg, ON.

9. Franklin Carmichael. Autumn in Orillia, 1924 oil on canvas. The Beaverbrook Gallery, Fredericton, NB

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