Sunday, May 16, 2010

(Social) Realism: Canada

Emily Carr (1871 – 1945)
Emily Carr (December 13, 1871 – March 2, 1945) was a Canadian artist and writer heavily inspired by the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast. One of the first painters in Canada to adopt a post-impressionist painting style, Carr did not receive widespread recognition for her work until later in her life. As she matured, the subject matter of her painting shifted from aboriginal themes to landscapes, and, in particular, forest scenes. As a writer, Carr was one of the earliest chroniclers of life in British Columbia.

James Edward Hervey MacDonald (1873 – 1932)

James Edward Hervey MacDonald (May 12, 1873 – November 26, 1932) was a member of the famous Group of Seven Canadian artists. He is the father of Thoreau MacDonald.
He was born in Durham, England. In 1887 at the age of 14, MacDonald moved with his family from England to Hamilton, Ontario. Two years later, in 1889 they moved again to Toronto where he studied commercial art and became active in the Toronto Art Student League. In November 1911, MacDonald exhibited sketches at the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto. This was an important step as the exhibit brought him to the attention of Lawren Harris, who encouraged MacDonald to keep painting and show his work whenever he could. MacDonald won acclaim in 1912 for his role in an exhibition at the Ottawa Society of Artists. In January 1913 he traveled to Buffalo, New York, where he found in an exhibit of Scandinavian Impressionist paintings an uninhibited approach to northern wilderness that could be adopted by Canadian painters.

Thomas John Thomson (1877 – 1917)
Thomas John Thomson (August 5, 1877 – July 8, 1917), also known as Tom Thomson, was an influential Canadian artist of the early 20th century. He directly influenced a group of Canadian painters that would come to be known as the Group of Seven, and though he died before they formally formed, he is sometimes incorrectly credited as being a member of the group itself. Thomson died under mysterious circumstances, which added to his mystique.

Frederick Horsman Varley (1881 – 1969)

Frederick Horsman Varley, also known as Fred Varley (January 2, 1881 – September 8, 1969), was a member of the Canadian Group of Seven artists. Beginning in January 1918, he served in the First World War and painted scenes of combat from his experiences of the time. Though enthusiastic to travel to France as a war artist, he became deeply disturbed by what he saw: "We’d be healthier to forget [the war], and that we never can. We are forever tainted with its abortiveness and its cruel drama." Varley's Some Day the People Will Return, shown at the Burlington House in London and at the Canadian War Memorials Exhibition, is a large canvas depicting a war-ravaged cemetery, suggestive that even the dead cannot escape the destruction.

His and A.Y. Jackson's contribution in the war influenced work in the Group of Seven. They chose to paint Canadian wilderness that had been damaged by fire or harsh climates. Varley's major contribution to art is his work with the Group of Seven. He and Lawren Harris were the only members of the group to paint portraits. In 1954, along with a handful of artists including Eric Aldwinckle, he visited the Soviet Union on the first cultural exchange of the Cold War.

Alexander Young Jackson (1882 – 1974)
Alexander Young Jackson, CC, CMG (October 3, 1882 – April 5, 1974) was a Canadian painter and founding member of the Group of Seven. As a young boy, Jackson worked as an office boy for a lithograph company, after his father abandoned the family of six children. It was at this company that Jackson began his art training. In the evenings, he took classes at Montreal's Le Monument National.

In 1905, he worked his way to Europe on cattle boat, returning by the same means and travelling on to Chicago. In Chicago, he joined a commercial art firm and took courses at the Art Institute of Chicago. He saved his earnings and, by 1907, was able to visit France to study Impressionism. In France, he decided to become a professional painter, and studied at Paris' Académie Julian under J.P. Laurens. He also visited Italy and the Netherlands. Jackson painted in an Impressionist style.

Arthur Lismer (1885 – 1969)
Arthur Lismer, CC (27 June 1885 – 23 March 1969) was an English-born Canadian painter and member of the Group of Seven. At age 13 he apprenticed at a photo-engraving company. He was awarded a scholarship, and used this time to take evening classes at the Sheffield School of Arts from 1898 until 1905. In 1905, he moved to Antwerp, Belgium, where he studied art at the Academie Royale.

Lismer immigrated to Canada in 1911, settled in Toronto, Ontario and took a job with Grip Ltd. - a satirical magazine. Lismer came to the attention of lord who arranged for him to be commissioned as an " an official war artist." His best known work from the war years depicted what he observed and learned about in Halifax, Nova Scotia: Mine sweeping, convoying, patrolling and harbor defense.

Lawren Stewart Harris (1885 – 1970)
Lawren Stewart Harris, CC (October 23, 1885 – January 29, 1970) was a Canadian painter. He was born in Brantford, Ontario and is best known as a member the Group of Seven who pioneered a distinctly Canadian painting style in the early twentieth century. A. Y. Jackson has been quoted as saying that Harris provided the stimulus for the Group of Seven. During the 1920s, Harris's works became more abstract and simplified, especially his stark landscapes of the Canadian north and Arctic. He also stopped signing and dating his works so that people would judge his works on their own merit and not by the artist or when they were painted.

Paraskeva Clark (1898-1986)
Paraskeva Clark (1898-1986) was a Canadian painter born in St. Petersburg, Russia and a member of the Canadian Group of Painters. Prior to the revolution she studied with Savely Seidenberg and at the Free Art Studios, which had previously been known as the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, under Vasily Shukhayev and Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin (1918-1921). From 1923 she lived in Paris and then moved to Toronto, Canada in 1931 with her husband.
Clark was introduced to Dr. Norman Bethune in 1936 by Pegi Nicol MacLeod (1904-1949), art editor of the Canadian Forum from 1935-1936. From this point Clark became active in the Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy and not long after painted one of her most significant works: Petroushka in 1937. Her work was to become one of the few politically influenced works to survive the era.

Clark felt passionately about the role and responsibility of the artist: "Those who give their lives, their knowledge and their time to social struggle have the right to expect great help from the artist. And I cannot imagine a more inspiring role than that which the artist is asked to play for the defence and advancement of civilization".

World (Social) Realist Art (Index of Countries)
This blog page is part of an ongoing project by artist and part-time lecturer Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin ( to explore Realist / Social Realist art from around the world. The term Realism is used in its broadest sense to include 19th century Realism and Naturalism as well as 20th century Impressionism (which after all was following in the path of Courbet and Millet). Social Realism covers art that seeks to examine the living and working conditions of ordinary people (examples include German Expressionism, American Ashcan School and the Mexican Muralists).

Click here for (Social) Realist Art Definitions, World (Social) Realism and Global Solidarity, Art and Politics, Social Realism in history and Country Index.

Suggestions for appropriate artists from around the world welcome to

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