Biography of Tom THOMSON

Tom Thomson



Tom Thomson was born in Claremont, Ontario in 1877. Unlike most of his Canadian contemporaries, he never travelled to Europe, and had no direct experience with original paintings by the great French Impressionists. His knowledge of Impressionism was strictly second-hand, garnered from his friends Arthur Lismer, A.Y. Jackson, Lawren Harris, and J.E.H. MacDonald, and from reproductions. Until 1913, Thomson was employed as a graphic artist at Grip Limited, where he befriended J.E.H. MacDonald and, later, other artists who would form the Group of Seven in 1920. He lived primarily in towns and cities – in Owen Sound, Chatham, Seattle and Toronto – and only the last five years of his life were spent in protracted visits to Algonquin Park. He convinced artists such as Jackson, Lismer, Varley to join him. Thomson spent enough time there to create a unique body of work. The artistic promise of his late works was abruptly severed with Thomson’s tragic drowning in Canoe Lake in 1917. His death was felt deeply by the Group of Seven artists. In the words of Jackson: “Without Tom, the north country seems a desolation of bush and rock. He was the guide, the interpreter, and we the guests, partaking of his hospitability”.



As A.Y. Jackson explained, “Not knowing all the conventional definitions of beauty, [Thomson] found it all beautiful…you are struck by the slightness of the motif that included the painting…He gave us the fleeting moment, the mood, the haunting memories of things he felt.”



Largely self-taught, Thomson painted nature spontaneously, combining his skills as a graphic artist with a bold sense of colour to produce daringly simple but extremely powerful compositions. The little sketches made in the woods or on the lakeshore often served as inspiration for large works on canvas, which were painted in the studio in winter.


Source: Anne Newlands, Canadian art from its beginnings to 2000, Firefly books, Canada, 2000; Paul Duval, Canadian Impressionism, McClelland & Stewart, Canada, 1990

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