Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Where Have You Been All My Life?

I don't mean to be obnoxious, but let's face it. How many Americans can even name an artist from Canada, never mind the Group of Seven? I lived in Washington DC for 6 years for Christ's sake and can't recall one Canadian painting in the whole Smithsonian! We stumbled upon an Emily Carr exhibit one weekend in Vancouver, but it just didn't register.

Enter the McMichael Collection in Kleinburg (just north of Toronto) and the AGO. In the hands of Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, AY Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, JEH MacDonald and Frederick Varley in the 1920s (that would be the Group of Seven), the Canadian landscape comes alive. Tom Thomson, inspired by the beauty of Algonquin Park, influenced the group's development. Emily Carr, influenced by the First Nation's communities of the Pacific Northwest coast, was also closely associated with the group. They uniquely capture the color and light of the beauty that surrounds us.
My favourite of the group's contemporaries is David Milne, whose paintings were clearly shaped by living in New York City in his formative years and less reminiscent of the French Impressionists. The New York Times in 1912 called them "violently alive" and in 2005, reviewing a major retrospective at the Met, described his "delicate yet direct watercolors" as "dazzling." Two rooms off the AGO's gorgeous Galleria Italia are devoted to his work and they're just a tease as far as I'm concerned. A google search reveals no movement to start a museum in his honour, but I'd donate to such a cause.

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