Meet the Group of Seven

Reviewed: August 31, 2002
By: David Wistow & Kelly McKinley
Publisher: Kids Can Press
48 Pages; Numerous photos and illustrations, $16.95

They may actually seem a bit old fashioned now, but when the members of the Group of Seven started showing their work under that name back in 1920 they raised a lot more than a few eyebrows with what was then their fresh, new approach to viewing Canada.

People were used to a European style of representational art, canvases with lots of people, buildings and human artifacts.  The ten painters usually associated with the group were more interested in nature, in the shapes and forms they found on the land and the way they interacted with each other. 

To follow this interest they tried to get away from the cities and see the land in the raw, taking annual railway trips into northern Ontario, for instance, and living in a boxcar on a siding for a few weeks while they made quick sketches of subjects they would explore in more detail in their studios when they went home again.

Some of them, A.Y. Jackson for instance, even travelled to the North in search of landscape to record. Between their own work and that of associates such as Emily Carr on the west coast, they began to change the way that people looked at the nation.

If it seems a bit old hat today, that's simply an indication of how pervasive their influence has been over time.

Wistow and McKinley's book has been prepared with the resources of the Art gallery of Ontario behind them, massive resources which I last viewed the summer before last.  Organized into 20 short chapters, most set up as two page spreads, the book gives a beginning art student of any age a first look at the group:  who they were, what they painted, what was new about them, and what kind of a mark they left behind them. It is profusely illustrated with dozens of colour plates and period black and white photographs.

This is an excellent resource for the age range (age 8 and up) and a good review of the subject for people of any age.