10 things you should know about Tom Thomson

October 25, 2011 · 3 comments

Tom Thomson was obsessed with capturing the magic of Algonquin Park. Like many artists before him, his work wasn’t widely recognized for its brilliance until after his death. This week an exhibition featuring the work of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven opened at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London England. It’s called Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven.

West Wind -1917

1. Many people think Tom Thomson was part of the Group of Seven. He wasn’t. He worked closely with a number of founding members and influenced their development. But he died three years before the group was formed.

The Group of Seven was made up of A.Y. Jackson, J.E.H. MacDonald, Lawren Harris, Arthur Lismer, Fred Varley, Franklin Carmichael and Frank Johnston.

Maple saplings – 1916-1917

2. Thomson died tragically and mysteriously in 1917 while canoeing alone on Canoe lake in Algonquin Park. Controversy still surrounds his death.

3. The artist had little or no formal training as a painter.

Autumn foliage – 1915

4. A naturalist, Thomson was an accomplished guide and woodsman. He loved to fish.

The Northern River – 1915

One of my favourite Tom Thomson paintings

5. Writer Roy MacGregor is fascinated with Tom Thomson. He’s written a book called Canoe Lake and more recently a non-fiction account of Thomson’s life called Northern Light: The enduring mystery of Tom Thomson.

Writer Roy MacGregor  

6. Thomson was the youngest member of what was once called “the hot mush” school of art. Today, his work is revered internationally. No one is calling it mush!

Autumn birches – 1916

7.  He painted smaller sketches on site in the spring and summer– taking them back to his studio in Toronto to develop them into larger finished works over the winter.

Spring Ice – 1915-1916

I love the freshness of this piece. It’s always exciting to see blue water re-emerge after a snowy winter.

8. Thomson’s work attracted the attention of art collector Dr. James MacCallum. Dr. MacCallum helped the artist out financially and was instrumental in bringing attention to Thomson’s work.  Dr. MacCallum bequeathed his collection to the National Gallery in Ottawa when he passed away in 1943.

 The Pool – 1915

9.  Just before his death, Thomson was hoping to sell his sketches for $10 – $15. a piece. Today one of those sketches would likely sell for $2 million at auction.

The Jack Pine – 1916-1917

Thomson’s most iconic painting.

10.  Tom Thomson painted for less than six years. Yet he remains one of Canada’s most influential painters.

The National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa has the largest number of Tom Thomson works. The McMichael Canadian Collection in Kleinburg Ontario also has a number of major works. The Thomson Collection in Toronto and the Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery in Owen Sound Ontario (Thomson’s birth place) also feature the artist’s work.

You can see highlights of the Dulwich show in London here. Painting Canada runs until January 8, 2012 in London England.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard Brightling October 26, 2011 at 10:54 am

Great notes on Tom Thomson
In 1993 my company developed a promotion to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Algonquin Park.Our client was Algonquin Brewery (previously Formosa) who created a special 5 litre keg of beer with a portion of the sales going to The Friends of Algonquin Park.
The promotion was called a “Legacy for the Future” for which we produced a special logo as well as a number of other promotional items such as: paddles,bandanas,”T”shirts,leather key fobs and a poster which depicted a Tom Thomson painting called Black Spruce in Autumn (1916 the year before he died) all of which were sold at the new Algonquin Park visitors centre.
The media launch was held at The McMichael Gallery in Kleinberg, at which a young chap who was 89 years old recounted a short story. He was Tom’s cabin boy as he recalled.
After they had been out fishing….Tom would say to him,”Get the fire started and use some of my old paintings to get it going” Oil on canvas works just great.
His comment 74 years later at the McMichael Gallery was that he would be a multi millionaire today if he had used another way to start those cabin fires.
The promotion was very successful and went on to win Marketing’s GOLD prize, knocking out the multi million dollar campaign’s by Molson and Labatt
I still have a sample of the KEG … Unfortunately its empty


canadianoriginals October 26, 2011 at 11:03 am

What an interesting story Richard. Thanks for sharing it.


prestonportageur October 29, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Great post. Point number 9 is particularly poignant. Richard’s story is also great.


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