Group of Seven

Group of Seven at the Arts and Letters Club
Group of Seven at the Arts and Letters Club

The Group of Seven (founded 1920) was a group of Canadian artists who painted and exhibited Canadian landscapes with a style influenced by Post-Impressionists. The Group of Seven and their expressive style of art became a fundamental part of Canada's culture; it was a part of the steps that lead Canada away from Old World traditions and into new-found independence after WWI.

1 Facts
--1.1 History
--1.2 Members
-----1.2.1 Thomas John Thomson
-----1.2.2 Lawren Stewart Harris
-----1.2.3 James Edward Hervey MacDonald
-----1.2.4 Alexander Young Jackson
-----1.2.5 Frederick Horsman Varley
-----1.2.6 Arthur Lismer
-----1.2.7 Franklin Carmichael
-----1.2.8 Francis Hans Johnston
-----1.2.9 Alfred Joseph Casson
-----1.2.10 Emily Carr
2 Significance
3 Gallery
4 References


The Group of Seven was formed in 1920, a group of modern Canadian landscape artist. They were a group of artist who broke free from the traditional art values from Europe, which dominated the Canadian art community at the time. Many of the original members were working in as commercial artists, with the exception of Lawren Harris.

Tom Thomson, a fellow commercial artist, is often credited as having been the basis for the Group's distinctive style. He had been friends with AY Jackson, Arthur Lismer, FH Varley, Frank Carmichael, and Lawren Harris while he was learning art. It was his passion for nature, reminiscent of that of the Romantics, which the Group had embodied. Unfortunately, due to an accident in 1917, Thomson did not live to see the formation of the group he inspired.

Months before their first show at the AGO in May 1920, the Group of Seven came into existence with members Frank Carmichael, Lawren Harris, AY Jackson, Francis Johnston, Arthur Lismer, JEH MacDonald, and FH Varley. Paralleling the Impressionists who rebelled in the salons of Europe, they rebelled against what was considered the "norm" in the art community, and with their landscapes expressed not only nature but the feelings it evoked. This ideal was born when Harris and MacDonald attended an exhibition for Contemporary Scandinavian Art in Buffalo in 1912. They noted the artists' usage of bright colours and simple shapes that expressed more than a traditional landscape mimicking nature could.

Because Harris was financially independent, he and his friend Dr. JM MacCallum often supported the Group and its members financially. It was because of these two that the Studio building was built in 1914 on Severn Street. It was here that the Group of Seven painted at their leisure. As a group, the members would set out, for days at a time, deep into the rural areas and wilderness where they could capture the wild Northern landscape. They would bring their art supplies along, doing oil sketches on canvas board, whereupon their return to the Studio in Toronto would turn into magnificent paintings. Noted places where they have travelled include British Columbia, Algonquin Park, and Georgian Bay.

The Group of Seven is noted for their usage of paint to create surface textures, minimization of natural shapes into their most essential form, and usage of simple but bold colours. Their avant-garde approach to painting nature enraged the Traditionalists yet elicited enthusiastic support from people such as Eric Brown, the director for National Gallery of Canada. The Group endured attacks against their vision from people who doubted whether they were truly creating "art". Nowadays one can accept all forms of art, but one can sympathize with those who feared the threat of the new replacing the old. They believed the artists wanted to overthrow, by challenging the boundaries of art. This created much controversy, for the art community was divided between those who did not accept it and those who defended it passionately. It was this controversy that drew the attention to the Group.

In the end, the artists who set out to break free from the binding of European traditions became a fundamental developer of art. A decade and a year after the Group's formation, the members decided to disband to form the Canadian Group of Painters in 1931 to invite other Canadian artists into the distinct Canadian art community.

external image col-gro-img-tho.jpgThomas (Tom) John Thomson (1877-1917)
Although he died before the Group's formation, he is considered, if not a member, then an affiliate of the Group of Seven. One can rarely talk about the Group without mentioning Thomson.

When Thomson was young, he was engaged in music, which influenced him to a point in his art. He worked in the Grip Limited commercial art firm alongside other future members of the Group. During that time they met at the Arts and Letters Club as an informal gathering of artists. Thomson is noted by the members of the Group of Seven as the one whose passion for nature inspired the Group. His fervour for naturalism became an infection that spread amongst his friends. On one occasion, he brought his friend Jackson to discover the Northern landscape in Algonquin Park. His style was rugged, and illustrated more of his reaction to nature rather than nature itself. He used bold colours and general shapes to capture the mood. He minimized shapes and flattened his paintings to the point where some of it came on the edge of abstraction. It was loose and expressive, unlike the traditions of art in Canada at the time. The future members who viewed his work looked at it as inspiration; it was the beginnings of a revolution of Canadian art.

He died in Canoe Lake in 1917, and his body was found a week later. His death affected his friends, who looked up to him as a guide into the Canadian wilderness. Though there are many theories, to this day his death remains a mystery.

external image col-gro-img-har.jpg Lawren Stewart Harris (1885-1970)
Harris inherited his family fortune, therefore he was not a commercial artist as the other members were. Because he did not have to work, he painted leisurely. He supported the Group financially and opened up many opportunities, thus was considered by the members as the leader of the Group of Seven.

Harris was not a landscape painter at first. After he returned from studying art in Europe, he took to the streets to immortalize the urban scenes of Toronto. Under Thomson's influence, he came to depict the wilderness of Canada. He utilizes simple, smooth shapes in his paintings that resemble sculptures.

After the Group's disbandment in 1931, Harris decided that he could not truly express himself with landscape and instead turned to abstraction.

external image col-gro-img-mac.jpg James Edward Hervey MacDonald (1873-1932)
Studied art in Hamilton Art School in 1887 and the Central Ontario School of Art and Design after 1889, MacDonald is one of the best trained artists in the Group. He worked in the Grip along with Thomson, and other future members. He was the one with whom Harris went to see the Scandinavian art show. He is another member considered major in the Group of Seven.

MacDonald's style consists of a rough, dark pallet, elegant, design-focused composition. Later in his art career, he incorporated some Oriental art into his work, which he learned about and was fond of.

external image col-gro-img-jac.jpg Alexander Young Jackson (1882-1972)
Jackson studied art in Paris at the Académie Julian in 1907. After he returned to Montréal, he painted Edge of the Maple Wood, which caught the eye of the Grip artists. They invited him to Toronto, and after considering the unsuccessful job opportunities in Montréal, he moved to Toronto in 1913.

Jackson used warm colours and smooth forms, and he enjoyed travelling to the remote areas of Canada to paint landscapes. He had a charismatic writing style that advertised and created hype for the Group.

external image col-gro-img-var.jpg Frederick Horsman Varley (1881-1969)
Varley was a Romantic, in that he was religious and sought God in nature as well as in church. He lived in Sheffield, England and moved to Canada in 1912 at the suggestion of Lismer. In Toronto, he found work as a commercial illustrator at the Grip and befriended Thomson and Carmichael.

Although the Group of Seven focused on landscapes, Varley preferred portraiture. He worked in watercolour as well as oil. After the disbandment of the Group in 1931, he opened the BC College of Art with JWG MacDonald in 1933.

external image col-gro-img-lis.jpg Arthur Lismer (1885-1970)
Lismer studied art in Sheffield, where he was born, and at the Académie royale des beaux-arts. He moved to Canada in 1911 and worked at the Grip where he met MacDonald, Thomson, Johnston and Carmichael. When he returned to England to marry, he convinced Varley to move to Canada as well.

Lismer was influenced by his exposure to French Impressionism. His style is recognized by his raw colours and impasto, which, unlike traditional art, always lets the viewer know he is looking at a painting. He enjoyed teaching art and at one point was the president of OCAD.

external image col-gro-img-car.jpg Franklin Carmichael (1890-1945)
He took on Casson as an apprentice when he was working in the Grip. He used watercolour and oil to portray his view of Northern Ontario landscapes. His work is distinguished from the Group by the gentleness of his paintings. He joined the Canadian Group of Painters following the disbandment and taught at the Ontario College of Art in 1932.

external image col-gro-img-joh.jpg Francis (Frank, Franz) Hans Johnston (1888-1949)
Johnston was first called Frank; he later changed his name to Franz. He studied at Toronto Central Tech School and at the Central Ontario School of Art. His style is noted more atmospheric than that of the other members, focusing more on mood than the subjects. Because of this difference in ideals, he resigned from the Group in 1924 and Casson took his place.

external image col-gro-img-cas.jpgAlfred Joseph Casson (1898-1992)
Casosn was apprenticed to Carmichael at the Grip. He was not a foundling member, for he was only invited after Johnston resigned from the Group. He is known for reviving the usage of watercolour and using simple shapes.

Emily Carr (1871-1945)
Emily Carr was never acknowledged as a member of the Group of Seven; nonetheless she was in contact with and drew inspiration from them. By the time she met Harris and the other Group members at the National Art Gallery in 1927, she was already in her prime. She had begun to feel dejected because the art community in British Columbia scorned her not only because her paintings were avant-garde, but also because she was a woman. After her meeting with the Group, she returned home feeling encouraged by the Group, whose ideals she shared. Harris, who became her mentor, encouraged her to paint the landscapes of BC. She began to experiment, and she travelled the province and was inspired by the Natives she met and the totem poles that they built.

Carr was known for her eccentricity, and perhaps it was because of this that she broke free from the traditional woman's role and became an artist. She never married, and because she was freed from a family that she had time to pursue her interests in art. It wasn't until her death that her work was recognized.


The rebellious artists who had tried to break free from traditional art became a fundamental development of art. The Group of Seven is noted as an iconic symbol of Canada for their emotion portrayal of Canadian landscapes. At the time of the Group's formation, the Great War had only been over for only two years. At the peace conference, Canada had won a seat as a separate country in the Conference at Versailles for its victory at Vimy Ridge. It seemed as though Canada was becoming more and more independent -- politically, that is. With the Group of Seven, Canada stepped away from the old art traditions of Europe. This movement in arts and culture is one of the steps Canada as a country took toward autonomy.


Click on images to view larger.
external image jack-pine-painting-722.jpg
Jack Pine (1916-1917) Tom Thomson
external image clouds-lake-superior-627.jpg
Clouds, Lake Superior (1923) Lawren Harris
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The Solemn Land (1921) JEH MacDonald
external image canal-du-loing-near-episy-623.jpg
Canal du Loing near Episy (1909) AY Jackson
external image mountain-landscape-garibaldi-677.jpg
Mountain Landscape, Garibaldi (1928) FH Varley
external image september-gale-georgian-bay-604.jpg
September Gale, Georgian Bay (1921) Arthur Lismer
external image snow-clouds-1345.jpg
Snow Clouds (1938) Franklin Carmichael
external image fire-swept-algoma-6649.jpg
Fire-swept, Algoma (1920) Frank Johnston
external image cranberry-marsh-630.jpg
Cranberry Marsh (1916) Tom Thomson
external image fine-weather-georgian-bay-637.jpg
Fine Weather, Georgian Bay (1913) JEH MacDonald

external image laurentian-landscape-658.jpg
Laurentian Landscape (1913-14) Lawren Harris
external image big-raven-1346.jpg
Big Raven (1931) Emily Carr


The Canadian Encyclopedia. 2010. March 3 2010. <>
Newlands, Anne. The Group of Seven & Tom Thomson. Willowdale, Canada: Firefly Books, 1995.
Granatstein, J. L., and H. Graham Rawlinson. The Canadian 100. Toronto: McArthur and Company, 1997.

The Canadian Encyclopedia. 2010. March 3 2010. <>
The McMichael Canadian Art Collection > Group of Seven. 2010. March 3 2010. <>