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100 Years of The Group of Seven

October 23, 2014

It was 100 years ago today that The Group of Seven sketched together for the first time in Algonquin Park. The following excerpt from The Group of Seven by Dennis Reid (The National Gallery) describes this significant event in Canadian art history:

The first time that any number of the painters of the future Group of Seven sketched together in the North was October 1914 when Jackson, Lismer, Thomson, and Varley all camped around Canoe Lake. The initiative, as when Jackson and then Lismer visited the park in the spring, seems to have come from Thomson. In his letter to Fred Varley in July, he suggested that Varley and his wife come up to Algonquin and camp with him. Although Jackson had planned to try to sketch with Thomson in the fall, it was a letter from Thomson that made him finally decide to go directly through to Algonquin on his return from the West.

There is some evidence that Dr. MacCallum finally made it possible for Varley to travel to Canoe Lake, and Lismer went up to work with him, taking along his family.

Jackson must have arrived some time before the middle of September, and Lismer, probably with Varley, about 1 October. Jackson has said that he was sketching with Thomson for six weeks that fall, which would mean that he returned to Toronto near the end of October. His intention early in October was to return about 23 or 24 October, and he seems to have done so. We can assume that, with the possible exception of Thomson who returned probably during November, the rest of the painters also went home at that time.

The autumn foliage seems to have made a most striking impression on all of the painters that October, and their excitement is evident in their attempts to capture that sumptuous display in their sketches. For Thomson particularly, the experience was a source of great progress, and a confirmation of the path he had chosen to follow in his art.

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