Three years ago, the Groninger museum in the Netherlands had an exhibition about Cuban art.
Though there were and are many differences between Cuba and Canada, in the late nineteenth-early twentieth centuries artists in both countries faced at least somewhat similar issues.
Both countries were colonies, respectively of Spain and of the United Kingdom. In visual arts, that meant that the artistic establishment tended to uncritically follow European established traditions, without, for instance, noting differences in scenery, nature and culture between Europe and the Americas.
Both countries started to move away from old style colonialism. In Cuba, that happened violently, with a war of independence from Spain and United States military intervention. Though there was some violent repression in Canada, there was much less of a sharp break there, rather a more gradual movement toward more autonomy within the British empire.
Against this social and political background, some artists were looking for new forms of art. Like Cuban artists tried to make their art less pseudo-European and more Cuban, some Canadian artists tried to make their work more Canadian.
This summer, in the same Groninger museum, there is the exhibition Painting Canada – Tom Thomson and The Group of Seven.
The museum says about it:
[It] provides an overview of the extraordinary work of the Group of Seven, an artists’ group that arose in Canada at the beginning of the twentieth century and disbanded in 1933. Their landscape paintings are considered among Canada’s most important cultural treasures, yet one that has never before been seen in the Netherlands.
This video from Britain says about itself:
Painting Canada: Introduction
Ian Dejardin Director of Dulwich Picture Gallery and Curator of this show introduces Tom Thomson’s and the Group of Seven’s work.
Wikipedia writes about the Group of Seven:
Emily Carr was also closely associated with the Group of Seven, though [she] was never an official member.
Believing that a distinct Canadian art could be developed through direct contact with nature, The Group of Seven is most famous for its paintings inspired by the Canadian landscape, and initiated the first major Canadian national art movement. The Group was succeeded by the Canadian Group of Painters in the 1930s, which did allow female members.
Emily Carr is not mentioned at the Groningen exhibition.
The issue of women’s participation shows that artistically innovative movements are not necessarily politically progressive. In Cuba, some of the innovative artists were politically on the far left. I did not read about a similar development in the Canadian Group of Seven.
The Groninger Museum compares the Group of Seven with De Ploeg, a Dutch Groningen province innovative group of about the same 1920s period. However, there were socialist political tendencies in De Ploeg. While the Group of Seven was financially dependent on agricultural business big money, inherited by prominent Group member Lawren Harris. Harris was a member of the Theosophical Society (not really politically on the left) and was was made a Companion of the Order of Canada by the government.
The predecessor and inspiration for the Group of Seven was Tom Thomson (1877-1917). His inspiration for becoming a professional artist was Algonquin Park, a nature reserve not so far from Toronto city where he lived.
The first hall of the Groningen exhibition were all Thomson paintings. The museum cinema showed a documentary about Thomson’s life.
A famous painting by Thomson, inspired by Algonquin Park, is The Jack Pine.
This video says about itself:
Painted in the winter of 1916-17 and purchased by the National Gallery in 1918, The Jack Pine is once again on a European tour. After being part of Painting Canada, Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London, UK, this work and others are now on their way to Oslo’s National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design. The exhibition opens in Oslo on Jan 29. Before The Jack Pine left Canada it underwent the most extensive cleaning and restoration in its history. This short, behind the scenes video, takes you through just how that restoration was done.