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who WERE the group of seven?

The Group of Seven were a group of like minded Canadian artists living in Toronto in the early 1900's, most of who were working in the graphic design industry. Of the original seven members Franklin Carmichael, Frederick H. Varley, Authur Lismer, A.Y. Jackson, Lawren S. Harris, Frank Johnson, and J.E.H. Macdonald; all but Harris and Jackson worked together. The Group formed in 1920 in response to what they saw as a stale Canadian art environment. They did not see art that truly represented the nations ideals as a young and growing country. They were self proclaimed "Modern Artists" who were willing to take on the art establishment and shake it up.

Each one of these artists had met, befriended and been inspired by Tom Thomson whose earlier paintings of Algonquin Provincial Park were the catalyst for their art movement. All of the members had at one time or another travelled to Algonquin Park to paint with Thomson on portage trips in the wilderness. Thomson had died mysteriously two years prior to the creation of the Group of Seven, but they were to continually show his work in their shows and exhibitions. An additional member was needed to replace Frank Johnston, who left the Group in 1922 due to the bad publicity they were receiving as upstarts in the Canadian art scene.

The eighth official member to join them was A.J. Casson, who was a protégé of Franklin Carmicheal. The Group of Seven painted extensively across Canada and by 1932 had cemented themselves and their art into Canadian culture. Their paintings are celebrated throughout the country and indeed the world.


J.E.H. MacDonald


(1873-1932) MacDonald was born in Durham England, and in 1887 emigrated to Canada, his fathers homeland. They settled in Hamilton, Ontario, where he studied art. MacDonald was to become the art director at a Toronto graphic design house, where in years to come most of the future Group of Seven members were working underneath him. It is MacDonald whom had the vision of a Canadian School of Art, and through his ideals and friends the group of Seven would form. He was a close friend of Tom Thomson, and it was MacDonald that encouraged to paint. MacDonald was to travel extensively throughout the country painting locations from Quebec to the Rocky Mountains.


Lawren S. Harris


(1885-1970) Harris was born into a very wealthy family in Brantford, Ontario. His family were the cofounders of the Massey-Harris farming equipment company. This wealth gave him the ability to not have to worry about making a living and focus his studios and his future on being an artist. Harris studied art in Germany from 1904 - 1907, upon returning to Canada he wanted to bring the European influences he experienced to the modern Canadian art world. This idea was shared by his friend and fellow member of the Toronto Arts and Letters Club, J.E.H. MacDonald. The two men realized they had similar goals and art ideals and there friendship would be the driving force behind the Group of Seven. His fabulous wealth gave him the ability to help his fellow artists, Thomson and Jackson, both of whom he supported financially for some time, to allow them to explore their artistic talents without the worry of paying bills and working. He also would occasionally sponsors paintings trips for the group of painters to remote areas of Canada to capture the country on canvas.

Franklin Charmichael

(1890-1945) Charmichael was born in Orillia, Ontario. He moved to Toronto to study art at Central Technical school, and then at The Ontario College of Art. He worked at the printing firm where MacDonald was his boss and other members of the group were also employed. He studied art at the Academie Des Beaux Arts in Antwerp Belgium, but his education was ended by the onset of World War 1. Upon his return to Toronto, while working back at the graphic shop he was invited out on weekend sketching trips, and was thus included in the circles of artists who were to become the Group of Seven. Charmichael was to focus a lot of his work in the field of watercolour painting, which at the time was not a popular medium for painting. In 1932 he was to get a job as a teacher at the Ontario College of Art., this offered him the ability to create more painting works and influence the next generation of Canadian artists. In 1932 after the Group of Seven disbanded, he was became a founding member of The Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour.

Authur Lismer


(1895-1969) Lismer was born in Scheffield England, he spent his early teenage years working for a photo engraving firm, and studied simultaneously at the Scheffield School of Art, he also spent some time studying art at the Academie Des Beaux Arts in Antwerp Belgium. He immigrated to Canada in 1911 and ended up in Toronto where he found employment at the same graphic design firm where J.E.H. MacDonald worked and where his coworkers were Tom Thomson, Frank Johnston, Charmichael. He was included in the weekend sketching trips and would become a great friend of Thomsons. Lismer was to accompany Thomson on a few trips to Algonquin Park, and sometimes bring his wife and child on the trips. Lismer was to become one of the outspoken members of the Group of Seven, with his often witty humour, and sly comments, he began combatting art critics with witty retorts and essays. He also was a great educator of the arts, for the Art Gallery of Toronto(Ontario), and The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, where he created extremely successful childrenʼs programs. So successful were the programs that he was invited to South Africa and the South Pacific to help initiate similar programs overseas.

A.Y. Jackson

(1882-1974) Jackson was born in Montreal, and left school at an early age to work at a Montreal printing company. He studied art for a short time at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1906. In 1907 he moved to Paris, France, where he studied art at the Academie Julian. It was during this time that he was influenced by the French impressionists, an influence that would impact the future of Canadian art. Jackson returned to Canada in 1912 and by 1914 was ready to give up on Canada as a place for an artist to flourish. At this crucial time he was contacted by Lawren S. Harris and J.E.H. MacDonald. Harris pleaded with Jackson not to leave the country, and offered to pay his wages and give him a free studio space if he were to move to Toronto and join the art movement they were beginning to establish. Jackson took up the offer, and soon found himself sharing a studio space with Tom Thomson. The two men became quick friends and Jackson was to inform Thomson of the modern art he had experienced in Paris. At the advent of World War 1, he was hired by the War Records Department to document the the fighting action on canvas. After the war he returned to Toronto. When the Group of Seven formed in 1920, Jackson was a key figure and very vocal proponent of the groups ideals. He spent the final years of his life at the McMichael Canadian Collection museum in Kleinburg Ontario, where he lived as a guest of the owners Robert and Signe McMichael.

Frederick H. Varley

(1881-1969) Varley was born in Sheffield England and was childhood friends with Authur Lismer. Varley studied at the Sheffield School of Art. He also studied at the Academie des Beuax Arts in Antwerp Belgium. In 1912 he received a letter from Lismer encouraging him to move to Toronto where there was plenty of work for a good artist and there was a burgeoning art movement beginning. Upon arriving in Toronto Varley got work at the same printing firm as Lismer and MacDonald and Thomson. Varley fit in well with the group of painters and was soon joining them on the weekend sketching

trips. As well Varley was to accompany the friends to Algonquin park where Tom Thomson was beginning to influence all of there work with his fantastic sketches. Varley was hired by the War Records Department to travel behind the Canadian troops and document what he saw, through paintings and sketches. His works from this period are graphic and dark, depicting manʼs ability to destroy and to kill. He was profoundly disturbed by what he saw and experienced, and this left a dark, and deep, impact on his character. Returning to Toronto after the war he was to rejoin his friends as they were about to create the Group of Seven. Varley was invited to teach at the Victoria School of Decorative and Applied Arts. This was to give the Group of Seven west coast representation and a truly national scope to the group.

A.J. Casson

(1898-1992) Casson was born in Toronto, he worked as a commercial designer and took evening art classes. While working in graphic design he became apprentice to Franklin Charmichael and was introduced to outdoor sketching and to using watercolours as a paint medium. Charmichael was so impressed by the young protege, that in 1926, he invited him to join the Group of Seven to fill the void left by Frank Johnston. He began to join them on the weekend sketching trips, but due to family obligations was not able to join them on the more adventurous trips across the country. To break away from the similarity of his mentors work Casson began to Paint small towns and buildings across central and south Ontario. Thus documenting many of the little communities before they were engulfed by the larger cities, or that disappeared altogether. Casson went on to become a pioneer in the silk screening industry being one of the first people to apply the principle to making art prints. In his later years Casson faithfully cottaged, and painted locally, in the Oxtongue Lake area, while on summer vacations.

Frank (Franz) Johnston

(1888-1949) Frank (Franz) Johnston was born in Toronto. In his mid twenties he was working as a commercial designer, in the same firm as MacDonald and the others. This fateful group of artists would bond together over art and friendship and coalesce into The group of Seven. Johnston was a keen member of this group of individuals and was also looking to explore a uniquely Canadian art ideal. He would join the group on many of the weekend sketching trips and the traveling box car .trips to Algoma Johnston was an ambitious painter, and held a number of solo exhibitions as well as showing with the group of Seven. However due to the backlash and negative publicity that The group of Seven was receiving he decided to show less with the group. Citing that he was worried it would effect his success as an artist he formally resigned from the group in 1924, and changed his name from Frank to Franz Johnston. After he passed away, his family moved to Dorset Ontario where they became established members of the community.

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