In the mid-nineteenth century, the search for transcendence that marked Romanticism began to be expressed in landscape painting. It was also to be found in Symbolism.

Symbolism, which could be described as the expression of mystical or abstract ideas through forms, rejected both the dogmatism of academic representation and the supposed scientific underpinnings of Impressionism. It appeared in the work of various painters in Russia and Canada. Artists like the Russian Mikhail Vrubel and the Canadian Ozias Leduc, though very different, represent the spiritual dimension of this style. Their works are more a depiction of the soul than simply windows onto nature.

This exploration of spirituality continued in the work of Kandinsky, a member of the Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) group, who published Concerning the Spiritual in Art in 1911. This work argued that harmony between colours and forms must be based on one thing only—effective contact with the human soul. Kandinsky read texts on theosophy, a spiritual doctrine that attracted new interest in the first half of the twentieth century. In Canada, landscape painting took on a transcendent quality with so Read More

In the mid-nineteenth century, the search for transcendence that marked Romanticism began to be expressed in landscape painting. It was also to be found in Symbolism.

Symbolism, which could be described as the expression of mystical or abstract ideas through forms, rejected both the dogmatism of academic representation and the supposed scientific underpinnings of Impressionism. It appeared in the work of various painters in Russia and Canada. Artists like the Russian Mikhail Vrubel and the Canadian Ozias Leduc, though very different, represent the spiritual dimension of this style. Their works are more a depiction of the soul than simply windows onto nature.

This exploration of spirituality continued in the work of Kandinsky, a member of the Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) group, who published Concerning the Spiritual in Art in 1911. This work argued that harmony between colours and forms must be based on one thing only—effective contact with the human soul. Kandinsky read texts on theosophy, a spiritual doctrine that attracted new interest in the first half of the twentieth century. In Canada, landscape painting took on a transcendent quality with some members of the Group of Seven, in particular Lawren Harris. Greatly influenced by theosophy, Harris deepened his interpretation of nature by stylizing his representations of landscapes and reducing their components to elementary forms.


© 2003, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Painting

The Valley, by Franklin Carmichael (1890-1945), in 1921.

Franklin Carmichael
Edmonton Art Gallery
1921
oil on canvas
109.9 x 91.4 cm
© Edmonton Art Gallery


When this view of a river valley outside Toronto was included in the Group of Seven’s 1923 American exhibition, the New York critic Helen Appleton Read took special note, describing it as “…a glacier-green stream winding between green hills and simplified grey-green tree shapes, a wholly delightful painting, fresh, unusual, not too decorative, with nothing of stale picture-making about it, despite the evident competency of the artist [Franklin Carmichael].” The painting was donated to The Edmonton Art Gallery—then known as the Edmonton Museum of the Arts—in 1926, becoming the first Group of Seven work to be acquired by a public institution west of Thunder Bay, Ontario.
When this view of a river valley outside Toronto was included in the Group of Seven’s 1923 American exhibition, the New York critic Helen Appleton Read took special note, describing it as “…a glacier-green stream winding between green hills and simplified grey-green tree shapes, a wholly delightful painting, fresh, unusual, not too decorative, with nothing of stale picture-making about it, despite the evident competency of the artist [Franklin Carmichael].” The painting was donated to The Edmonton Art Gallery—then known as the Edmonton Museum of the Arts—in 1926, becoming the first Group of Seven work to be acquired by a public institution west of Thunder Bay, Ontario.

© 2003, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Painting

Morning, Lake Superior, by Lawren Stewart Harris (1885-1970) around 1921.

Lawren Stewart Harris
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Purchase, William Gilman Cheney Bequest
c. 1921
oil on canvas
86.3 x 101.6 cm
© The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.


After painting cityscapes at the beginning of his career, Harris found the mystical landscape that he had long been seeking in the scenery north of Lake Superior (the largest of the Great Lakes). The real subject of this painting is the vast sky above the lake and the implacable light that emanates from it like a revelation. From this standpoint, the islands and the rocks do not have any more substance than the enormous clouds above them. Harris considered the bracing northern air to be like the ‘Spirit’ blowing over America. He was a theosophist and attempted through his work to link the everyday with the mystical world. After 1921, Harris ceased to date his works, believing that his art should transcend time.
After painting cityscapes at the beginning of his career, Harris found the mystical landscape that he had long been seeking in the scenery north of Lake Superior (the largest of the Great Lakes). The real subject of this painting is the vast sky above the lake and the implacable light that emanates from it like a revelation. From this standpoint, the islands and the rocks do not have any more substance than the enormous clouds above them. Harris considered the bracing northern air to be like the ‘Spirit’ blowing over America. He was a theosophist and attempted through his work to link the everyday with the mystical world. After 1921, Harris ceased to date his works, believing that his art should transcend time.

© 2003, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Painting

Harbour Entrance, Petite Riviere, by J.E.H. MacDonald (1878-1932), 1922.

James Edward Hervey MacDonald
Edmonton Art Gallery
1921
oil on board
21.5 x 26.4 cm
© Edmonton Art Gallery


J.E.H. MacDonald was an accomplished painter who excelled at portraying the effects of light and atmosphere. In 1922, he painted in Northern Ontario and on the Atlantic coast. In this lively sketch of a harbour in Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia, he uses brilliant, clear colours to capture the reflections of the moored sailboats and buildings along the shore. During this same trip he painted another view of Nova Scotia’s south shore, Atlantic Beach and Fog Bank Near Petite Riviere, Nova Scotia, where he focused instead on capturing the hazy light of dusk.
J.E.H. MacDonald was an accomplished painter who excelled at portraying the effects of light and atmosphere. In 1922, he painted in Northern Ontario and on the Atlantic coast. In this lively sketch of a harbour in Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia, he uses brilliant, clear colours to capture the reflections of the moored sailboats and buildings along the shore. During this same trip he painted another view of Nova Scotia’s south shore, Atlantic Beach and Fog Bank Near Petite Riviere, Nova Scotia, where he focused instead on capturing the hazy light of dusk.

© 2003, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Painting

The Glacier, by Arthur Lismer (1885-1969), in 1928.

Arthur Lismer
Art Gallery of Hamilton - Gift of The Women’s Committee, 1960
1928
oil on canvas
101.5 x 126.7 cm
© Marjorie Lismer Bridges


Arthur Lismer made his only trip to the Rockies in 1928. In this canvas he uses fluid, jewel-like colours to paint solid, interweaving forms that radiate an inward light. Lismer wrote, “The world of appearances exists, as it does to the religious devotee, as a means of ecstasy. A stepping off place, as it were, into a world wherein the divine order of existence, the golden thread of pure design shines like a pathway of fire in the realm of the mind, and speculation on technical and objective things is replaced by aesthetic contemplation on the nature of beauty….”
Arthur Lismer made his only trip to the Rockies in 1928. In this canvas he uses fluid, jewel-like colours to paint solid, interweaving forms that radiate an inward light. Lismer wrote, “The world of appearances exists, as it does to the religious devotee, as a means of ecstasy. A stepping off place, as it were, into a world wherein the divine order of existence, the golden thread of pure design shines like a pathway of fire in the realm of the mind, and speculation on technical and objective things is replaced by aesthetic contemplation on the nature of beauty….”

© 2003, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Painting

A Lake in Labrador, by A.Y. Jackson (1882-1974), 1930.

Artist: Alexander Young Jackson, Photo: Ned Pratt
Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador - Gift of Celanese Canada, Inc.
1930
oil on canvas
81.5 x 102 cm
© The Estate of the late Dr. Naomi Jackson Groves


A.Y. Jackson’s oil on canvas A Lake in Labrador, 1930, is especially interesting since there are relatively few depictions of Labrador from this time period in public art collections, of either the landscape or aspects of human settlement. Likely it was based on sketches done in 1927, when Jackson travelled to the Arctic with Dr. Frederick Banting, on the Newfoundland-owned vessel S.S. Beothic. Labrador was a fine subject for an artist attracted aesthetically and spiritually to its great sweeps of space. Writing of Jackson’s work, art historian Dennis Reid refers to a canvas of a similar date as having “the easy, rolling rhythms of a mature Jackson” and to the artist’s ability to achieve a sense of rich, full colour with, in fact, a relatively limited palette. Both characteristics are evident in A Lake in Labrador.
A.Y. Jackson’s oil on canvas A Lake in Labrador, 1930, is especially interesting since there are relatively few depictions of Labrador from this time period in public art collections, of either the landscape or aspects of human settlement. Likely it was based on sketches done in 1927, when Jackson travelled to the Arctic with Dr. Frederick Banting, on the Newfoundland-owned vessel S.S. Beothic. Labrador was a fine subject for an artist attracted aesthetically and spiritually to its great sweeps of space. Writing of Jackson’s work, art historian Dennis Reid refers to a canvas of a similar date as having “the easy, rolling rhythms of a mature Jackson” and to the artist’s ability to achieve a sense of rich, full colour with, in fact, a relatively limited palette. Both characteristics are evident in A Lake in Labrador.

© Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador

Painting

Sunshine and Tumult, by Emily Carr (1871-1945), around 1938.

Emily Carr
Art Gallery of Hamilton - Bequest of H.S. Southam, Esq., C.M.G., LL.D., 1966
c. 1938
oil on paper laid on board
87 x 57.1 cm
© Art Gallery of Hamilton


Emily Carr believed that her purpose as an artist was to reveal the spiritual energy present in nature. Her struggle to convey a sense of movement and energy in the landscape was finally achieved when she developed the method and materials necessary to her artistic aspirations. She began painting on cheap manila paper with white house paint that she tinted and thinned with turpentine. This technique gave her the transparency and fluidity of working in watercolours while preventing the colours from bleeding or floating on the paper. It also allowed her to work more spontaneously in nature, capturing her response to her surroundings in gestural and inspired images of the British Columbia forest.
Emily Carr believed that her purpose as an artist was to reveal the spiritual energy present in nature. Her struggle to convey a sense of movement and energy in the landscape was finally achieved when she developed the method and materials necessary to her artistic aspirations. She began painting on cheap manila paper with white house paint that she tinted and thinned with turpentine. This technique gave her the transparency and fluidity of working in watercolours while preventing the colours from bleeding or floating on the paper. It also allowed her to work more spontaneously in nature, capturing her response to her surroundings in gestural and inspired images of the British Columbia forest.

© 2003, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Develop an understanding of the geographic influences on culture
  • Understand that art can represent the experience of people
  • Examine how major dominant European art movements influenced the interpretation of the landscape in Canadian painting
  • Be aware of similarities and differences in landscape painting between Russia and Canada prior to 1940
  • Appreciate the development of a distinctly Canadian style of landscape painting
  • Respond critically to a variety of art styles
  • Recognize the emotional impact of art

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