If you have a cottage in northern Ontario, chances are you’ve seen (or hiked across) the landscapes that inspired Canada’s most recognizable artists, the Group of Seven. What you may not realize, though, is that Canada has a rich artistic heritage that extends both before and after the work of the iconic group—and that our country was and is home to artists with national and international significance.
To take us through the work of ten of Canada’s top artists, we’ve engaged the help of Erik Peters, a veteran art dealer and appraiser who’s appeared on both the Canadian and British versions of Antiques Roadshow, to walk us through a gallery of works that span more than two centuries.
An acclaimed Haida sculptor, goldsmith, printmaker and writer, Bill Reid created work that will be familiar to any Canadian who looks at a Canadian $20 bill, which features pictures of four of his creations. Known for connecting Haida culture with mainstream Canada, Reid’s masterwork, The Spirit of Haida Gwaii is displayed outside the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. Spirit of Haida Gwaii Source: Wikimedia Commons
Ashevak, who died a year ago at the age of 85, is one of the most highly regarded Inuit artists in Canada, and one of the very first Inuit women to be recognized for her work. A pioneer of Inuit art, which was largely unknown to the world before 1960, Ashevak and other Cape Dorset artists formed the West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative as a workshop for budding Inuit artists. Window at John Bell Chapel of Appleby College in Oakville, Ontario (2004) Source: Wikimedia Commons
Kane, born in 1810, produced extensive paintings recording the life of Canada’s Aboriginal communities in the mid-nineteenth century, contributing a vivid, detailed visual account of a significant portion of Canada’s history. “Kane was really in the right place at the right time, with the right intentions,” explains Peters. “His timing and circumstances in the context of Canadian history were unique.” Assiniboine Hunting Buffalo (1856) Source: Wikimedia Commons
“Morrisseau is arguably Canada’s best-known First Nations painter,” says Peters. “His work has influenced and encouraged generations of artists that followed him.” Establishing a style known as the Woodland School, Morrisseau’s paintings are characterized by vivid colours and a stylized depiction of First Nations legends and myths. Loon Family (1976) Source: coghlanart.com
One of the founding members of the Group of Seven, Lawren Harris was also one of the most influential, helping to fund several of the Group’s artistic ventures. He was a major force in encouraging Emily Carr to take up painting again after a 15-year hiatus. Afternoon Sun, Lake Superior (1924) Source: arthistoryarchive.com
James Wilson Morrice
Born into a wealthy Montreal family in 1865, James Wilson Morrice spent much of his adult life in Europe, where he was influenced by the works of painters such as Pissaro and Matisse. “Morrice is considered by many to be the father of Canadian Impressionism,” explains Peters. “His confident, impressionistic paintings of Quebec, some of which would be considered national treasures now, were an eye-opening revelation to the art world of early 20th-century Canada.” The Ferry, Quebec (1910) Source: Wikimedia Commons
“Rarely has an artist flourished so spectacularly and so quickly for such a brief period,” says Peters about Tom Thomson, a close friend of many members of the Group of Seven, albeit never a member himself. “Like a comet, he was with us for a brief, shining moment—and then he was gone.” Thomson, whose main creative period lasted only five years, created some of Canada’s most iconic paintings, including Jack Pine, West Wind, and Winter before his mysterious death in Algonquin Park in 1917. Evening, Lake Scugog (1911) Source: tomthomsonart.ca
Emily Carr’s paintings focus primarily on the indigenous cultures of the West Coast and the awe-inspiring beauty of BC’s landscape, using stylized lines, rich colours and exaggerated perspectives to create a sense of grandeur and other-worldliness. Nicknamed klee wyck (“laughing one”) by the Nuu-chah-nulth people of Vancouver Island's west coast, Carr overcame “formidable odds” to become Canada’s first major female artist of the 20th century. Kitwancool (1928) Source: Wikimedia Commons