More from Canada's National Gallery


Art Road Trip: Ottawa Part Two

In an earlier post I featured Canadian art from the National Gallery of Art in Ottawa, Ontario. In this post I feature a few other things to investigate.

Canada is, by area, the world's second largest nation, though the bulk of its population lives within a hundred miles of the US border. Yet those large, underpopulated regions have dramatic influence upon weather pattern, hence Canadians are also among the most geographically aware people on the planet. It should thus come as little surprise that Canadians and landscape painting go together like love and maple syrup—a Gordon Lightfoot reference for those wondering about the analogy. 

Varley: Stormy Weather Georgian Bay

Thomson: Jack Pine
MacDonald:The Solemn Land

Lawren Harris

Emily Carr
Probably the most famous of all of Canada's art coteries was the Group of Seven—landscape painters whose peak period was the 1920s and 1930s. Originally they included Frank Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A. Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J. E. H. MacDonald, and Frederick Varley, but it was a changing lineup that wasn't always seven. In fact, two of its most famous members were not originals: Tom Thomson and, a personal favorite, Emily Carr, whose depictions of totem poles and the Canadian West differentiated her from the rest, who were mainly Ontarians and Quebecers. These days, thanks to Steve Martin, Lawren Harris is probably the best known of the bunch.

Yvonne Houser: Rossport Lake Superior

Canadian landscapes often covey a sense of largeness and majesty. Most lack human subjects and if you've been to the Canadian Shield, the Rockies, or the Far North, you can understand why. I've not been north, but those other places have a way of making you think humans are pretty damn puny compared to the settings in which they roam. There's also a hard-to-describe mystery about some of those places. Harris portrays hat quite well in paintings whose subjects are at once real and surreal. Thomson does this as well, but with interplay of light and natural features.

William Raphael: Behind Bonsecouers Market, Montreal
Houser: Cobalt
Oddly, Canadian town and cityscapes often take on toy-like features: wooden structures that that evoke building blocks, streets filled with figures that border on folk art, and villages set amidst outsized features. Canadian painters also tackle historical subjects such as the coming of railroads, contacts with First Nations people, and so on. And, let's face it; Canada gets a lot of snow, a detail in all sorts of painting.   

Alex Colville (1920-2013) isn't very well known outside of Canada, but he's one of my all-time favorite artists. He painted with the same sparseness and evocations of emotional isolation as Edward Hopper and is sometimes called the Canadian Hopper. People look everywhere except at each other, but where they gaze is as debatable as the Mona Lisa's smile. There are also echoes of Winslow Homer.

Like any other museum, I have personal favorites. A few are depicted below.

Joseph Legare: Josephine Ourne
Prudence Howard Rollande
Harris: Toronto Street

Liubov Popova: The Pianist

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