My Favourite Canadians: Tom Thomson

The West Wind by Tom Thomson

The West Wind by Tom Thomson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Writing about Thomson in 1914, the younger artist David Milne observed: “Varley and Lismer pines are pretty conventional pines, well done but quite familiar … you admire their proficiency, that’s all. But with Thomson’s trees, it’s different. You can’t be indifferent. These few patches with knotted strings are powerful; there was strong emotion behind their making and they stir the same now.” Milne notes, too, how Thomson transcended the Group’s inclination toward decorative patterning – at least as we see it in their larger finished works. “A great point in Thomson’s favour is this, his lack of perfection,” Milne writes. “I am wary of craftsmanship. It is nothing in itself, neither emotion nor creation. I rather think it would have been wiser to have taken your 10 most prominent Canadians and sunk them in Canoe Lake – and saved Tom Thomson.” Painting Canada: ‘With Thomson’s trees, it’s different’; the Globe & Mail

There has always been something about Tom Thomson’s work I was inspired by. When I was in Grade 3 we were given an art assignment & I choose Emily Carr. Emily Carr was a BC painter who painted at the same time, and is associated with the Group of Seven. That was my first real introduction to that group of painters. I at the time was young and didn’t know that Canadians painted. I thought just England and the US had painters.  Now 40 years later I now live close to his own stomping grounds as a youth along the shores of Georgian Bay.  I am surrounded by a landscape that is harsh & unforgiving, yet this area embodies that raw beauty that Tom Thomson captured in his work.

Now for most anyone who didn’t grow up in Canada here is the description from ->Wikipedia: ‘THE GROUP OF SEVEN’

The Group of Seven  “were a group of Canadian landscape painters from 1920 to 1933, originally consisting of Franklin Carmichael (1890–1945), Lawren Harris (1885–1970), A. Y. Jackson (1882–1972), Frank Johnston (1888–1949), Arthur Lismer (1885–1969), J. E. H. MacDonald (1873–1932), and Frederick Varley (1881–1969). Later, A. J. Casson (1898–1992) was invited to join in 1926; Edwin Holgate (1892–1977) became a member in 1930; and LeMoine Fitzgerald (1890–1956) joined in 1932.

Campbell Hill – Grey County

I’ve drawn and been artistic my whole life. My Mom describes the first time I first picked up a pencil – she said I never grabbed on with my fist; from the time I was just able to walk I just instinctively knew how a writing implement was held. Perhaps from observation. I’ve always been a great observer. I love how light and shadow create and define “mood”, and how an eye for composition can focus your eye, and thus give your work balance & rhythm. A tweek here, a shift of the frame alittle to the right or left, and the whole vision your trying to establish comes together.  It is the invisible “it”, like an epiphany when it all comes together.

I am inspired by Thomsons bold, dramatic brush strokes. I love the grey rocks conveyed in slashes, with wonderfully gnarled ancient cedars poking up through. Those twisting trunks, bonsaid not by humans, but by icy, relentless winds. The Group of Seven were the first to paint Canada in a uniquely “Canadian” way. Previously Canadian Artists had often mimic-ed their English counterparts.  Yet Canada is not about pretty little pastoral landscapes, and cottage gardens. The Canadian landscape is vast, diverse, bold, harsh and majestic.  The early pioneers to Canada carved out, cut down and tried to tame the landscape; many failed.

My Father, the North Carolina boy that he is, hates our Canadian wind. He says he can feel it soon as he crosses the border. He believes its a different wind then the one they get in the south. The Canadian wind can be bitter and unforgiving. It is the very  bitterness and that unforgiving beauty that attracts me. Perhaps its the tenacity of both the landscape and those early pioneers that make us what we are here in the “Great White North”…..and for me, Tom Thomson’s work embodies that tenacity.

Two artists commonly associated with the group are Tom Thomson (1877–1917) and Emily Carr (1871–1945). Although he died before its official formation, Thomson had a significant influence on the group. In his essay “The Story of the Group of Seven”, Lawren Harris wrote that Thomson was “a part of the movement before we pinned a label on it”; Thomson’s paintings “The West Wind” and “The Jack Pine” are two of the group’s most iconic pieces.[1] Emily Carr was also closely associated with the Group of Seven, though was never an official member.

Believing that a distinct Canadian art could be developed through direct contact with nature, The Group of Seven is most famous for its paintings inspired by the Canadian landscape, and initiated the first major Canadian national art movement. The Group was succeeded by the Canadian Group of Painters in the 1930s, which did include female members.”

Tom Thomson’s grave is located approximately 40 minutes north of here, outside of his hometown in Leith, Ontario.


One thought on “My Favourite Canadians: Tom Thomson

  1. So, going over this just now, I was reminded of a funny incident with Campbell Hill and my Dad & Step-Mom. Ok, so My Dad and Brenda came up for Tim’s service and internment this October. They had arrived the night before and were staying in Collingwood, where the service was being held. They were going to pick me up the next morning and take me to Collingwood. Dad calls at 9 AM the next morning to let me know they’re leaving the hotel and will be at the cottage around 10 AM. Ten goes by, eleven goes by, Noon. No Dad & Brenda. Finally at 12:30 or so they finally show up. They’re stupid GPS took them all across gawd knows where, finally landing about 500 feet down Campbell Hill. Its not for the faint of heart; steep incline, twist and turns around large rocks and trees right up to the roadway. Its a seasonal road only. I guess they missed that sign. There are often rock slides, trees down, etc. and we’ve had alot of rain this fall and I guess the road was all washed out. Not the time to be using Campbell Hill. Stupid GPS. So Dad’s like nope, nope, so he backs ALL the way back up the spirally, twisting steep hill and finally asked for directions at the store up the road. And you know that on the way back to Collingwood he is so stubborn he would have CONTINUED to use the GPS, instead of me. Now, I’m not known for my sense of direction, but if I’ve been some place a few times (like a hundred times) then I’m good. We got there the PROPER way, on paved roads…..and it didn’t take us 3 hours.


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