Arthur Lismer, c. 1926
Born in Sheffield, England in 1885, Arthur Lismer studied there and at the Académie royale in Antwerp, Belgium, before immigrating to Toronto in 1911. Finding employment as a graphic artist as Grip Limited between 1912 and 1915, he met Tom Thomson, J.E.H. MacDonald and, eventually, the other artists who would form the Group of Seven. During those brief years, he emerged as one of Canada’s leading landscapes painters. Describing himself as “a newcomer, raw English, full of enthusiasm”, Lismer joined the artists on sketching trips to Algonquin Park, later claiming that these experiences in the Canadian bush were “turning points” in his life. As a passionate advocate of art education, he inspired countless students as the vice principal of the Ontario College of Art (1919-27), as the director of education at the Art Gallery of Toronto (1927-38) and at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1941-67). He died in Montreal in 1969.
Lismer evoked the rugged splendour of northern Ontario. “Nature is not beneficent”, wrote Arthur Lismer in 1925. “It is ruthless, with a strange, savage beauty, tearing down as well as building up, but destroying that it might create anew”. He sketched in Toronto’s Don Valley and Riverdale Zoo with Tom Thomson. He painted in Georgian Bay area in 1913 and naval activities in Halifax harbour in 1917-18 for the Canadian War Records.
No other artist before Lismer has interpreted the Northern Ontario landscape with such a pure Impressionist technique, and his canvas could easily be accepted as an earlier example of Scandinavian or Russian Impressionism. He first produced fresh, luminous sketches that he could later enlarged in his Toronto studio creating brilliant examples of the wedding of French Impressionism to the Canadian landscape.
His paintings have energetic brush strokes and thickly painted surface.
He was elected Associate Of Royal Canadian Academy in 1919 and full member in 1946.
Source: Anne Newlands, Canadian art from its beginnings to 2000, Firefly books, Canada, 2000; Paul Duval, Canadian Impressionism, McClelland & Stewart, Canada, 1990