Thomson, Tom

Thomson, Tom Biography

Influential Canadian landscape painter, who worked with and inspired the Canadian landscapists known as the Group of Seven. He is best known for his paintings of the Ontario wilderness in late winter and autumn.

Born Thomas John Thomson near Claremont, Ontario, he grew up on a farm near Georgian Bay. He moved to Toronto, Ontario, in 1905 where he met painter J. E. H. MacDonald and other landscapists who would later form the Group of Seven. Tom Thomson began to paint around 1910, and in 1912 he first visited Algonquin Park, a wilderness preserve in northern Ontario. The rugged landscapes of Algonquin Park were the subject of Thomson's most famous oil paintings. Tom Thomson had no formal training as a painter, but he learned from his colleagues, MacDonald, A. Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer, and finally Lawren Harris, who all went on to form the Group of Seven with other painters in 1920. In 1914 Thomson painted on Georgian Bay, and during the summers from 1915 to 1917 he worked at Algonquin Park as a fire ranger or fishing guide, making numerous sketches.

Tom Thomson first exhibited his oil paintings in 1913. Those early sketches, silhouetted shores across bodies of water, are restrained and muted in color. After 1914 Thomson used brighter colors and more expressive brushstrokes to enhance the simplest motifs-shadows on snow, autumn foliage, and the aurora borealis. These remain some of Tom Thomson's most brilliant oil paintings.

Tom Thomson's canvases, painted in Toronto in winter from sketches, and of which fewer than 50 exist, show fearless experimentation. Frequently a body of water and a far shore are glimpsed through a screen of trees or foliage, and trees are flattened in decorative arrangements. In one of Thomson's last canvases, The Jack Pine (1917, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario), the isolation of the solitary tree silhouetted against a distant horizon is highly symbolic. Jackson credited Thomson with discovering "a new world, the north country and a truer artist's vision."

Thomson drowned at Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park in July 1917. He became a legendary figure in Canadian art, and his oil paintings are seen as central to the Canadian nationalist landscape art of the first half of the 20th century.

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