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The magnetic allure of the Group of Seven

On the eve of its 100th anniversary, the Group of Seven prepares to take Europe by storm in a new exhibition.

Group of seven Algonquin park

Unknown,  Tom Thomson, F.H. Varley, A.Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer, Marjorie Lismer and Mrs. Ester Lismer in Algonquin Park, 1914

It's been almost a hundred years since the Group of Seven had its first exhibition at the AGO. At the time, critics were less than sure – with the Canadian Courier asking, “are these new Canadian painters crazy?”, while The Toronto Star could only concede that “these seven painters show some excellent work.” But they persisted and ventured, full of pictorial ambition, away from urban centres and deep into the Canadian landscape. They imagined in paint ancient lakes and woods, Arctic vistas and the magic of the northern lights. On the eve of the Group’s 100th anniversary their vibrant colours and bold brushstrokes continue to reveal these artists’ love for Canada’s beautiful lands and waters.  

What better way to celebrate their passionate, nature-loving, experimental spirit than to send them on a new adventure? It was recently announced that Canada will be the guest of honour at the 2020 Frankfurt Book Fair, one of the world’s leading cultural trade fairs for print and digital content. Marking this moment of celebrating Canada, the renowned Schirn Kuntshalle Frankfurt will present Magnetic North: Imagining Canada in Painting 1910-1940, a major new exhibition showcasing the work of Group of Seven artists and their contemporaries. Featuring some 90 paintings and sketches, including 35 on loan from the AGO, this marks the first exhibition of these artists in Germany. Organized in cooperation with the AGO and the National Gallery of Canada, this exhibition will open at the Schirn Kuntshalle Frankfurt on September 25, 2020.

Saw Mills, Muskoka

Mary E. Wrinch. Saw Mills, Muskoka, 1906. Oil on canvas, Overall: 45.2 x 59.4 cm. Gift of Sylvia and Irving Ungerman and Family, 2010. ©  Art Gallery of Ontario 2010/32

Featuring works by Lawren Harris, Fred Varley, Franklin Carmichael, A.Y. Jackson, J.E.H. MacDonald and Arthur Lismer, as well their contemporaries Emily Carr, Tom Thomson, Edwin Holgate, Yvonne McKague Houssler, and Mary Wrinch, Magnetic North: Imagining Canada in Painting 1910-1940 will introduce these artists and their experimental approach to landscape painting to a new audience. It will critically consider the lasting impact the artists’ idealized portraits of nature, which largely ignored cities, industry and Indigenous peoples, had on shaping our national identity.

It’s a perfect time to book that trip to Germany. Closer to home, many works by the Group of Seven are on view every day in the AGO’s Thomson Collection of Canadian Art. Admission is always free with an AGO Membership or the $35 Annual Pass, which is free for visitors 25 and under.

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