On today’s date in 1970, the National Gallery of Canada opened an exhibition of more than 200 Group of Seven paintings to mark the 50th anniversary of the group’s founding.
Also known as the Algonquin School, the Group of Seven formed in 1920, when seven Canadian landscape painters – Lawren Harris, J.E.H. MacDonald, Arthur Lismer, Frederick Varley, Frank Johnston, Franklin Carmichael and A.Y. Jackson – unveiled their first exhibition at the Art Gallery of Toronto.
“In addition to Tom Thomson, Emily Carr and David Milne, the Group of Seven were the most important Canadian artists of the first decades of the twentieth century,” reads The Canadian Encyclopedia, which adds the group quickly became known for its use of “bright colours, tactile paint handling, and simple yet dynamic forms.”
In 2012-13, the Royal Canadian Mint struck seven $20 silver coins to commemorate each of the artists in the Group of Seven.
The series started in 2012 with the release of three Fine silver coins—one with F.H. Varley’s Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay, another with Franklin Carmichael’s Houses, Cobalt and the last with Arthur Lismer’s Nova Scotia Fishing Village, 1930.
Varley’s Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay is a signature landscape painted in 1921 using oils on canvas to capture the character and essence of this stunning geographic region and its distinctive windswept pines.
In the reproduction of Carmichael’s painting Houses, Cobalt, linocut printmaking (cutting a relief design into a linoleum surface that is then inked and pressed onto the paper) was used. It was popular in the early years of the 20th century, first for wallpaper printing, then for prints.
During his long career as a painter, Lismer travelled across Canada and in 1930 painted in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, where he completed some of his most enduring works. His painting Nova Scotia Fishing Village shows lobster traps, floats, weights, buoys, barrels, bags, drying racks, docks, fisherman, shacks, homes, the tools of maritime life are piled high, creating a mesmerizing image of the working life in a fishing village.
The series continued in 2013 with four more coins, these featuring J.E.H. MacDonald’s Sumac; A.Y. Jackson’s Saint-Tite-des-Caps; Franz Johnston’s The Guardian of the Gorge; and Lawren Harris’ Toronto Street, Winter Morning.
The MacDonald recreation is engraved with his famous work, Sumacs, which was one of several decorative panels that the Group of Seven was commissioned to paint in the Georgian Bay cottage of Toronto ophthalmologist and art patron, Dr. James MacCallum. The coin’s design illustrates the texture of MacDonald’s original work, which used intense pigmentation to evoke the ruddy autumnal haze of sumacs in the fall. The image is framed with a polished band featuring the words “CANADA” and “J.E.H. MacDONALD,” the date “2013” and the face value of “20 DOLLARS.”
The Jackson coin features an adaptation of his painting Saint-Tite-des-Caps. In the central field of the reverse image, Mint engravers created an interpretation of Jackson’s romantic depiction of one of his favourite painting locales of the 1920s and early 1930s: the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. A single, lyrical tree rises in the left portion of the foreground, while the houses are backed by a distant horizon of tall rolling hills and stylized evergreens. In the sky above, high banks of clouds are punctuated with dramatic sun rays. The outer frame on the reverse side features the words “CANADA” and “A.Y. JACKSON” along with the date “2013” and the face value of “20 DOLLARS.”
The Johnston coin features his painting The Guardian of the Gorge. In this detail of the painting, we see massive outcroppings of granite acting as a guard and gateway to a vast river canyon. The figurative becomes literal as one notices the figure of a crouching man emerging from the rock and at the crest of the cliff, the face of the elderly guardian watches over the vast chasm. The outer frame on the reverse side features the words “CANADA” and “FRANZ JOHNSTON” along with the date “2013” and the face value of “20 DOLLARS.”
The Harris coin recreates his painting Toronto Street, Winter Morning, which shows several bundled figures walk in the snowy streets by a horse-drawn delivery van. The contrast of light and morning shadows underscores the strong visual tension captured in the dominance of horizontal and vertical lines of streets, architecture and a small section of trees that define the painting.