Tom Thomson, The Jack Pine (1916)

Tom Thomson, The Jack Pine (1916) Oil on canvas, 50.4 in × 55.0 in. National Gallery of Canada,Ottawa.

A good (Canadian!) friend of mine suggested that I look into a wonderful group of artists from Canada called the Group of Seven for the blog. I had heard of the movement before but mostly as an offshoot of European landscape and not something that was widely taught in art history classes. Once I began looking into the group I found that, though some of the art does not speak to me personally (we've seen I'm more into blood and gore than landscapes) there was something distinct about the art that made me think of my few trips into Canada and how nature is so much a part of the scenery in a way that even the rolling farmlands in the US can't compare to. The figure of Tom Thomson is especially interesting. Though not officially part of the group, he is, by far, the most mysterious and singular. I hope you enjoy!

Tom Thomson was a Canadian painter in the early part of the 20th century. Known for his affiliation with the famous Group of Seven, Thomson was not an official member. His early, and suspicious death, cut short a life and talent that would have brought even more renown to this Canadian movement. His close friends, Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A. Y. Jackson, Franz Johnston, A. J. Casson, J. E. H. MacDonald, and Frederick Varley made up the founders and official members of the Group of Seven, though, like Thomson, the artist Emily Carr is also closely affiliated with the group.

The Group of Seven were Canadian landscape painters that set out to create an art form that would showcase the natural beauty of Canada while also creating an independent artistic identity from Europe. Though heavily influence by French Impressionism and the Post-Impressionist movements, the Group of Seven also took elements of the art nouveau and attempted to create art that would show Canada as the emotive and savage landscape that it was. The Jack Pine (1916) by Tom Thomson is a beautiful rendering of a real site in Algonquin Park. The combination of the tree's delicacy and the sharp lines that delineate its outline come together to form the lyrical bend of the branch that evokes a light breeze on a cold lake. His broad brushstrokes are able to give the scene the ruggedness and harsh feeling that the colder climates showcase during early fall and long winters. The Jack Pine is a solitary tree, as the branches curl down, the tree seems to be slowly letting go, ready to let go of its leaves and move into winter. The transitional feeling of the painting gives the viewer an opportunity to watch the as the seasons change and the days grow short.

Thomson was a self-taught artist who, until the last years of his life, worked day jobs to support himself. Though his previous profession of graphic designer might be thought to have helped him, his work has very little to do line and more to do with stroke. Though, as is obvious in the Jack Pine line became more important in his later work, it is really only in his sketches that his previous experience become very evident. The Jack Pine was painted in 1916, a year before Thomson's mysterious disappearance and subsequent death. Found a lake in Algonquin Park on July 8 in 1917, Thomson had disappeared a few days earlier. Originally there for a fishing trip, it is unknown how he ended up in the lake. His death was officially called a drowning but many know that no actual autopsy was completed. In the vein of struggling artists before him, his legend has become larger than his problems actually were. Numerous theories have sprung up about depression and possible suicide but there is on concrete evidence for either the drowning or self-harm stories. His death will remain a mystery and its suspicious circumstances only solidified his status as one of the great stars of Canadian painting. His works do hold a melancholic tone but one must decide for themselves whether this is indicative of his own emotions or those best expressed by the Canadian landscape.

The Jack Pine
is one of Thomson's most famous works. The others include The West Wind and Northern River. I have included images of them below to give more examples of this lesser known artist. His largest collection of works hang in the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario.

Northern River, 1914-15

The West Wind, 1917

1 comment: