Each time I see a painting I have different expectations and mindset, and in turn I get a new perspective on the piece. This past weekend I was in Ottawa, Canada and I took an afternoon to go back to the National Art Gallery of Canada that I visited 6 months earlier.

I was visiting the Group of Seven pieces in the new Canadian Art section of the Gallery. I was looking at the work with fresh eyes as for the past couple months I have been researching the Canadian War Art Program and the Group of Seven, as per a post earlier this month. The current exhibit in the gallery is called: Canadian and Indigenous Art: From Time Immemorial to 1967 and runs from June 15 to September 4, 2017.

Being midway through reading the book AY Jackson – The Life of a Landscape Painter by Wayne Larson (Amazon), I noticed so much more from the artwork. The book discusses the interactions between the artist AY Jackson and the National Art Gallery, society in general, the war and the other artists (and their art trips). For instance, the National Gallery bought much of Jackson’s work before World War I & the Great Depression (1929), which funded many of his European and Northern travels; but when the depression hit in 1929, the gallery did not buy work from the Canadian Impressionist who had to find other sources of income (i.e. teaching or commissions) and it would be decades before the National Gallery bought the art. So even the date of acquisition on the art in the show intrigued me and told a story.

Examples of my new understandings of the stories, was seeing Tangled by JEH MacDonald. I now know more of the story behind this controversial piece. MacDonald was too old to join his artist friends during WWI so he stayed back with Tom Thomson. His piece had much publicity (albeit bad reviews) as it was rare to use such a large canvas for such a simple subject like a flower. I look at MacDonald’s work with new light knowing he was in Canada when Tom Thomson died, and his other close artists friends (future Group of Seven) were off at war in Europe. Although MacDonald did not have their wartime experience, I wonder how lonely it must have been back at the studio with the uncertainty of the world.

JEH MacDonald – “The Tangled Garden” 1916 (acquired by the gallery in 1937)


Knowing AY Jackson’s story in more detail now, there were so many pieces I fell in love with now that I have context. I wonder what the security guards in the gallery thought as I kept walking back & forth through the exhibit to re-look at pieces. I noticed the gallery has recently acquired one of his landscape paintings from his early European expeditions in Assisi, Italy. I cannot help but feel inspired by his work knowing I am inspired by the same location and landscapes in Europe.

AY Jackson – “Gran Canal Venice” 1912 (acquired by the gallery in 1971


AY Jackson – “Cypress Trees, Assisi” 1912, Oil on Canvas, (acquired by the gallery in 2016)


Here are a few more of my favorite pieces from my visit to the National Art Gallery of Canada.

AY Jackson – “Terre Sauvage” 1913 Oil on Canvas. An early Jackson painting that inspired a national movement in Canadian art.



AY Jackson, “Winter, Quebec” 1926 Oil on Canvas. Jackson painted horse sleighs in most of his early Quebec paintings


AY Jackson – “The Beothic at Bache Post, Ellesmere Island” 1929 Oil on Canvas (acquired 1926)



FH Varley – Self Portrait 1919, Oil on Canvas. As part of the war art program, Varely painted himself – a statement about how war affects the person as much as the landscape. More on my blog about the Canadian War Art program here.


Tom Thomson – “The Jack Pine” 1916-17 Oil on Canvas. A Canadian Masterpiece. I loved the yellow feature wall it hangs on that further brings out the warmth in the scene.


Tom Thomson pleine air panels. I am familiar with this display showcasing all the Group of Seven. So amazing to see this time a focus on a single artist and his panels.


The most famous Tom Thomson panel, Sunset Sky. I have seen this as a scan at Versus 3D Art. Something very special about the original.


AY Jackson – “The Highway Near Kluan Lake” 1943 (aquired 1944)
AY Jackson – “radium Mine Great Bear Lake” 1938 (aquired 1939)



Lawren S Harris – “January thaw, Edge of Town” 1921 Oil on Canvas. A Harris painting I was unfamiliar with… The reflections of the houses made this composition have so much depth.


The show was impressive. I cannot wait to find time to paint back in Vancouver with renewed inspiration to work on my lighting and composition after examining these masters. I highly recommend this show at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa… and if you have already seen it I recommend going again. Something new might catch your eye the second time through.

Here is more info about the show: Canadian and Indigenous Art: From Time Immemorial to 1967

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This