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Tom Thomson

Tom Thomson – the Ontario Group of Seven

Tom Thomson was one of Canada’s most influential painters of the 20th-century. Born in 1877, he came from a farming family and worked as a pen artist for engraving companies before he started painting at the age of 25.  Tom was inspired by the wild landscapes and vivid colours of the Algonquin National Park in Ontario.  His paintings were different from his contemporaries in that he used thick layers of paint to bring out the light and variety of colours in the landscapes.  He worked through the winter in Toronto to save enough money to head north as soon as the ice broke in the rivers and lakes.  He spent the summers exploring and painting the wilderness, living simply by fishing and hunting and canoeing around the network of rivers and lakes in the Algonquin and the northern shores of Lake Ontario.  If anyone expressed admiration for a painting he would immediately gift it to them in a fit of generosity.  He never appreciated his own work, but his reputation grew and he spearheaded a new way of painting the Canadian landscapes which is reflected in the work of the famous Group of Seven artists, of which he was a forerunner. 

In his short life he produced over 400 works of art on canvas, paper and wood. Tom Thomson, was last seen alive around mid-day, July 8, 1917, when setting out alone across Canoe Lake to begin a fishing trip.  It is not known what happened to him on this trip, his empty canoes was discovered drifting on the lake and his body found a week later.  In addition it is not known where he is buried, a veil of mystery hangs over his end.  He was only 39 years old and becoming world famous at the time.  He had one failed love affair with writer Alice Elinor Lambert that cast a shadow over his life, although this was compensated by his love of nature.  Thomson made an important contribution to art and inspired other Canadian artists to explore their environment with a fresh approach.

Jeune filles au piano

Jeune filles au piano – Young Girls at the Piano – 1892 – Renoir

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1841 – 1919 was a French artist and a leading painter in the development of the impressionist style. At the age of 21 he began studying art formally. He had his first success with “ Lise with a Parasol “ in 1868, but recognition was slow in coming.

 In 1874, having joined forces with Monet, Sisley, Pissarro and several others, he entered six paintings in the first Impressionist Exhibition. Renoir’s work was well received, though the exhibition as a whole was not successful and two of his works were shown in London. He attracted portrait commissions, continued to exhibit and by 1879 age 38 he was a successful and fashionable painter.

 In 1890 age 49 he married Aline and Renoir’s life became more serene. He painted many scenes of his wife and children depicting family life. This period of his life is sometimes referred to as his “ Pearly Period “, when colours become softer-keyed producing  silvery hues and a wonderful “pearly” transparency of flesh tones.

 The “Young Girls at the Piano” belongs to this period. Renoir received a commission from the French government for a painting to hang in the Museum of Living Artists, the Luxembourg Palace. Wishing to create a work that was truly representative of him, Renoir produced six almost identical versions – four in oil, one in pastel and an oil sketch. The painting chosen is thought to be the least successful of the set as the style is quite conventional and the faces somewhat studied. For modern tastes, the version probably painted first with its looser, blotchy applications of colour is perhaps favourite. The subtle changes in detail, poses and background between the versions can be seen in the illustrations. 

To quote Renoir during this period, “For me painting must be agreeably joyful and pretty – yes, pretty! There are enough depressing things in life without our creating still more”.


Artist Jimmy Lawlor has been highlighted by one group member, who comments that has a delightfully whimsical take on life and lovely sense of humour as portrayed in his paintings

Portrait of a Hero

John Innes from Foveran, was coxswain of the Newburgh life boat from 1908 -1931. On the night of October 15th 1923 the trawler, Imperial Prince, ran aground off Black Dog north of Aberdeen, and the Newburgh Lifeboat made two unsuccessful attempts to rescue the crew. When the crew of a cruiser in Aberdeen harbour volunteered to take the lifeboat out again, the exhausted John Innes went as coxswain and seven of the nine crew were rescued. For his bravery, he was awarded a silver medal by the RNLI.

His portrait, by James McBey is displayed in Aberdeen Art Gallery, which we will be visiting when it re-opens. A local artist and a local hero to inspire us in the difficult weeks ahead.

Local Inspiration

I would like to kick off our Art on the Web Posts with an appreciation of a renowned and well loved local artist – no, not Barrie!

James McBey was born in Newburgh (some say Foveran, some Aberdeen), in 1883. Initially self taught, learning to etch from a book, he later attended classes at Gray’s School of Art. At the age of 27 he abandoned his job as a bank clerk to concentrate on his art. He travelled in Europe, America and North Africa, began painting in watercolour, and in just one year had his first exhibition at a London Gallery. During the First World War he was appointed an official war artist and produced hundreds of oil and watercolour paintings and sketches in France, Egypt and Palestine. Marrying his American fiance, Marguerite Loeb, in 1931, they settled in Morocco, where he died in 1959.

His work is displayed in galleries in the UK and America and Aberdeen Art Gallery has a fine collection, much of it donated by his widow. Coincidentally, three years ago today, it was announced that the Marguerite McBey Trust had gifted a quarter of a million pounds to the redevelopment of the art gallery.

Art on the Web

As with everything else at the moment we have had to suspend our meetings. And, while that means no more perusing each others efforts and generally chewing the fat, artistic or otherwise, over coffee, happily, it doesn’t mean we won’t be beavering away with our projects. We aim to keep everyone motivated with regular posts about what we are working on and what inspires us. The weather this week has been perfect for going out and snapping images to work from, or even to sketch or paint from life; gardens, woodlands, beaches, castles – the choice around here is immense.

Great Sadness

The group was shocked and deeply saddened to learn last week that one of our members had passed away. Chris Kemp was one of our newest members but in the two years he was with us he made many friends. His artistic talent, enthusiasm for art and optimism in the face of serious illness truly impressed us all. Chris will be sadly missed. Our thoughts are with his family.

New Decade of Art

A new term for the art group, a new decade and lots of interesting projects coming to life. We are lucky to be living in such a beautiful area with so much inspiration for our work. The recently furbished Aberdeen Art Gallery is also a fabulous incentive to get creative; we can hardly fail!