As part of my ongoing effort to give our readers enough information to successfully infiltrate Canadian society and pass for natives, today we discuss a term that every Canadian I've ever met knows the meaning of: The Group of Seven.
Who were they?
The Group of Seven was a group of Canadian painters from the 1920s. They were landscape painters, influenced by Impressionism, whose work today goes for thousands of dollars, and is sold in prints all over Canada. If you have a Canadian grandparent, it's a safe bet to give them a Group of Seven print as a Christmas gift.
Were they an official group?
Yes. The original group consisted of: Franklin Carmichael, Lewlin Harris, Arthur Lismer, Frank Johnston, A.Y. Jackson, J.E.H. MacDonald, and Frederick Varley. Tom Thompson and Emily Carr were also associated with the group, but never actual members. The seven met at the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto and noticed similarities in each others' work. They started meeting about 1913, were briefly delayed by the first World War, and reunited afterwards to travel through Ontario sketching and painting. They held their first exhibit in 1920. Incidentally, Thompson died in 1917 while canoeing; this is still somewhat mysterious because he died of a blow to the head and not drowning.
How long did they last?
By 1931, the Group was successful enough to exhibit their work alone, so they stopped exhibiting as a group that year.
Why are they important?
Canada is a beautiful country and the Group of Seven shaped how Canadians look at their land. They created a certain mythology of Canadian wilderness, which is still hotly debated. The Group of Seven has become a central part of what Canadians think of themselves. They're as Canadian as Norman Rockwell is American. Unlike Rockwell, they celebrate the land and not the people. The paintings are also gorgeous. I particularly like Carmichael's paintings as well as Harris's.
That said, part of the appeal of the paintings is that they're a bit anodyne. You couldn't imagine anyone ever being offended by the Group of Seven, although some European critics actually were; but you also couldn't imagine devoting your life to collecting them, or staying up all night debating them.