Thursday, November 15, 2012

McMichael Gallery - Tom Thomson & Group of Seven, Double Take Portraits, Queen Elizabeth II Photos

The McMichael Art Gallery has always been known for its mandate to promote and present the work of The Group of Seven as well as Tom Thomson, who can almost be considered an honorary member. While the blockbuster exhibit called Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven received rave reviews as it toured Europe, one has to wonder whether this show would fare as well at the McMichael, where visitors are already familiar with this group's painting styles and themes. These Canadian landscapes may seem fresh and exciting to Europeans, but they are iconic images that most Canadians would find regularly imprinted on everything from mugs, to calendars to placemats.

We have already experienced many examples the art of the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson from the permanent collections of the McMichael Gallery, Art Gallery of Ontario and National Gallery of Ottawa. This dilutes the impact of seeing them together in one exhibition, despite the presence of new works from private collections that have not previously been publicly displayed.  Having said that, I found the Tom Thomson piece called "The Pointers", which is owned by University of Toronto, Hart House, to be particularly breathtaking, with its rainbow of autumn colours reflected in the leaves, sky and water.  It is one of the few paintings that include human forms, which provided an extra interest for me.

It seems to be the consensus amongst art critics that Tom Thomson's paintings were a cut above the rest and served as a prototype for the Group of Seven. In viewing so many works from all these artists in such close proximity, we easily concurred with this assessment.  We compared Thomson's iconic Jack Pine and West Wind paintings to the similarly themed September Gale by Arthur Lismer or Stormy Weather by Fred Varley. The Thomson pieces have an extra vibrancy that seems to be achieved with very simple, effortless brush strokes, and yet are complex images that capture the raw, natural beauty of the Canadian wilderness.  The others are also appealing but seemed more forced, and feel like imitations in comparison.

After a while, the art started to look very similar in this large exhibition, since the same scenery and themes were repeated by each artist.  The two that stood out were Lawren Harris' ethereal mountain and iceberg paintings, and A.Y. Jackson's early paintings of rural Quebec.

The exhibit called "Double Take: Portraits of Intriguing Canadians" sheds a new light on famous Canadian personalities by revealing an interesting but little known fact about them.  While David Suzuki is renowned in his role as environmentalist, we learned that when he was young, he and his family, all 2nd and 3rd generation Canadians, were placed in a Japanese internment camp during WWII.  Glenn Gould used to hum along when he played the piano, making it difficult for him to record his records. Jacques Plante, known for inventing the hockey mask, enjoyed knitting.  Jean Chr├ętien, shown giving a boy scout salute was ironically kicked out of the boy scouts for being unruly.

Photos of Queen Elizabeth II in her youth, during her coronation and as a young mother were on display as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebration.  Photographer Cecil Beaton had previously photographed the Queen Mother and was commissioned to capture Elizabeth's image as well.  Especially touching were the beautiful but candid shots of the queen giving a piggyback ride to young Princes Charles and cradling baby Prince Andrew.

1 comment:

Claude Edwin Theriault said...

Glad to discover A day in the Life of a Torontonian... |So much to see