To finish off my Group of Seven series, I have kept the best for last. Ask anyone about Tom Thomson, and most of the time you will hear that he was one of the founders of the Group. He wasn’t. Most of the Group’s members will tell you that Thomson’s art inspired them, though. And the only reason he wasn’t a part of it, is because he died before the Group of Seven came to be. And his death is mysterious.
If you’ve read my posts about the Group’s members, you will notice that a good majority of them worked at Grip Ltd in Toronto; Thomson did as well, in 1907, as a graphic designer.
Thomson’s first exhibition was in 1913 with the Ontario Society of Artists. The following year he became a member of the National Gallery of Canada, when they purchased one of his paintings.
Thomson was mostly a self-taught artist. He began drawing at a young age, but it was only in 1912, well in his thirties, that he began to paint seriously.
Another common fact, if you’ve followed this series, is the name Dr. James MacCallum. Lawren Harris and MacCallum jointly built the Studio Building in 1914 in the Rosedale ravine to serve as a meeting and working place for the new Canadian art movement. This studio enabled Thomson’s transition from graphic designer to professional painter. And so you can see, Thomson had all the earmarks of becoming a co-founder of the Group of Seven.
He died too soon, however. Thomson died on July 8, 1917. He disappeared while out on the Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park. His body was found eight days later. On the day his body was found, he was examined by Dr. Goldwin Howland, and buried in the Mowat Cemetery, near Canoe Lake. At the request of Thomson’s brother, George Thomson, his body was exhumed and buried in the family plot next to the Leith Presyterian Church on July 21.
The official cause of death was drowning, but many argue that there remains unanswered questions. This caused rumours and theories to fly about. One theory is that he committed suicide over a woman who vacationed at Canoe Lake, where she probably got pregnant with his child, plus he might have been despondent because of a lack of recognition for his art. Another theory was that he was murdered by poachers, or that he was in a fatal fight with some other man in Canoe Lake.
In September 1917, artists and area residents, erected a memorial cairn at Hayhurst Point on Canoe Lake, where Thomson died. It can only be accessed by boat.
In 2002, the National Gallery of Canada presented a major exhibition of his work. His work has so increased in value that there is an increase of discovered forgeries on the market.
Since his death, Tom Thomson’s work has blossomed and grown in popularity. A few other places to see his work is the Art Gallery of Ontario, and at the McMicheal Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario.
It is my hope that you have enjoyed my bite sized posts on the Group of Seven and its members.
Because Canadians are proud to have had them share their work with us, you can imagine the sheer number of books and sites that pay tribute to them. I can’t possibly name them all, but I can give you a few starting points.
Always a good place to go for great Canadian content is CBC Archives, and another great place for art collections is the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, and another great place to look for everything and everyone Canada and Canadian is the Canadian Encyclopedia.com. And if you’d prefer to hold a book, I suggest The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson, as well as The Best of the Group of Seven.
If you are intrigued and would like to learn more specifics about Thomson’s death, I know a great place: Canadian Mysteries.ca. There is also the Tom Thomson Memorial Gallery. To read more about Thomson, there are a few books I recommend: Northern Light: The Enduring Mystery of Tom Thomson and the Woman Who Loved Him, as well as Tom Thomson: Artist of the North (Quest Biography), and if you just want to admire his work, you might consider the Tom Thomson 2014 Wall Calendar.
Related Posts on the Group of Seven:
Group of Seven … or is that ten? (tkmorin.wordpress.com)
“A Little Pretty” Carmichael (Franklin Carmichael)
We’d Be Healthier To Forget The War (Frederick Varley)
Help Finish the Job (A.J. Casson)
8th in Group of Seven (Edwin Holgate)
Camouflaged Ships (Arthur Lismer)
The Solemn Land (J.E.H. MacDonald)
A Painter’s Country (Alexander Young (A.J.) Jackson
Look What I Found! (Lawren Stewart Harris)
Fire-Swept, Algoma (Frank Jonston)