Tom Thomson's landscape oil paintings offer up an enduring image of the Ontario North. His art reflected and reinforced a developing Canadian nationalism. Although he was associated with the Group of Seven, he was not a member. Yet, he is still considered to be an iconic figure of the Canadian art world.
The Early Years
While living in Toronto, Thomson attended art classes at the Central Ontario School of Art and Design, and studied with artist, William Cruikshank. Soon thereafter, Thomson befriended other artists who would later become founding members of the 'Group of Seven'. Thomson's design skills are evident in his art (Northern River, 1914-1915). His work also reflects his exposure to the contemporary Scandinavian art of the time, as seen by Group of Seven members Lawren Harris and J.E.H. MacDonald in a Buffalo exhibition in 1913.
Influenced by Nature
Thomson began painting in 1911, during which time he visited Algonquin Park and and even worked there as a wilderness guide. Within the next two years, he became a full-time artist. He sketched mostly in the spring or summer, wintering in Toronto where he worked his sketches up into larger canvases. By late 1915, Thomson's approach to landscape painting, perhaps influenced by his Group of Seven associates, had become more imagination-based. He often sought out some natural feature corresponding to his pre-existing ideas. Sometimes, painted landscapes in his Toronto studio from memory.
The Later Years
Thomson's design experience shows in his later canvases, which feature tree branches and flat areas of strong colour (The Jack Pine, 1916-1917). The National Gallery of Canada owns many of Thomson's sketches, as well as the larger paintings he made from them (The Opening of the Rivers: Sketch for 'Spring Ice', 1915; Spring Ice, winter 1915-16).
An avid outdoorsman, experienced canoeist, swimmer, and fisherman, Thomson died mysteriously, falling from his canoe on a calm day and on Algonquin. To this day, his death is controversial.