Group of Seven Artists Biographies

Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald

Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald

“We can only develop an understanding of the great forces behind the organization of nature by endlessly searching the outer manifestations. And we can only know ourselves better and still better by this search. There is an indefinable solidity that penetrates the work and a fine humility comes through the enlarged vision of the eternal wonders that surround us.”

L. L. FitzGerald was a Canadian artist and art educator. He was the only member of the Group of Seven to be based in western Canada.
His landscapes and still-life paintings were drawn from his immediate surroundings—the view of the back lane outside his house, a potted plant on the windowsill. His style grew more spare and abstract over his career. His body of work includes oil and watercolour paintings, drawings, printmaking, and sculpture.

He spent the winter of 1921–1922 at the Art Students League of New York in New York City.
In 1930, FitzGerald exhibited his work with the Group of Seven in two shows. The Group of Seven invited him to join their group in 1932, after the death of J. E. H. MacDonald.

FitzGerald died in Winnipeg of a heart attack on August 5, 1956. His ashes were spread in a field in Snowflake, Manitoba.

J.E.H. MacDonald

J.E.H. MacDonald

“It is the work of the Canadian artist to paint or play or write in such a way that life will be enlarged for himself and his fellow man. The painter will look around him… and finding everything good, will strive to communicate that feeling through a portrayal of the essentials of sunlight, or snow, or tree or tragic cloud, or human face, according to his power and individuality.”

 In 1920, MacDonald co-founded the Group of Seven, which dedicated itself to promoting a distinct Canadian art developed through direct contact with the Canadian landscape. Together they initiated the first major Canadian national art movement, producing paintings directly inspired by the Canadian landscape.

Today, MacDonald is viewed with general admiration for his art, with one writer commenting, “no Canadian landscape painter possessed a richer command of color and pigment than J. E. H. MacDonald … His brushwork is at once disciplined and vigorous. His best on-the-spot sketches possess an intensity and freshness of execution not dissimilar from Van Gogh.” His former home and 4-acre garden in Vaughan, Ontario have been restored. Owned by the City of Vaughan, they are open to the public.

MacDonald suffered a stroke in 1931, and spent the following summer recovering in Barbados. He died in Toronto on November 26, 1932 at the age of 59. He was buried at Prospect Cemetery in Toronto.

Edwin H. Holgate R.C.A.

Edwin H. Holgate R.C.A.

As a member of the Group of Seven, Edwin Holgate travelled twice to the region near the border of Quebec and Labrador, the latter at the time still part of the British colony of Newfoundland. In 1930, Holgate visited the fishing village of Natashquan, on the Gulf of St. Lawrence directly north of Anticosti Island. In 1932 he returned to Natashquan and also produced a series of paintings at Mutton Bay, another fishing settlement further along the coast of the Gulf. (Both villages are on the Quebec side of the Labrador border. A long-standing dispute over the demarcation line had been settled in 1927.)

Edwin Holgate’s family moved to Jamaica in 1895 where his father worked as an engineer. In 1897 he was sent to Toronto to go to school. In 1901 his family returned from Jamaica and settled in Montreal.

Edwin Holgate studied at the Art Association of Montreal under William Brymner (who also taught A. Y. Jackson) and later Maurice Cullen. In 1912 he studied in Paris. He was travelling in the Ukraine at the outset of World War I, and was forced to cross Asia to return to Canada. He returned to France with the Canadian Army.

Edwin Holgate was considered the “eighth” member of the Group of Seven, he was invited to join the group in 1930. In 1935 he was elected associate of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.

Alexander Young Jackson

Alexander Young Jackson

A. Y. Jackson, CC, CMG, was a Canadian painter and a founding member of the Group of Seven. Jackson made a significant contribution to the development of art in Canada, and was successful in bringing together the artists of Montreal and Toronto. He exhibited with the Group of Seven from 1920. In addition to his work with the Group of Seven, his long career included serving as a war artist during World War I (1917–19) and teaching at the Banff School of Fine Arts, from 1943 to 1949. In his later years he was artist-in-residence at the McMichael Gallery in Kleinberg, Ontario.

Jackson was a welcome addition to the Toronto art scene, having traveled in Europe and bringing with him a respected – though as yet not particularly successful – talent. The canvas taking shape while he waited to move into the Studio Building, Terre Sauvage, became one of his most famous.

In January 1914 the Studio Building was ready for occupation. Tom Thomson was another of the first residents of the building and shared a studio with Jackson for a year. Like the other Group of Seven painters, Jackson embraced landscape themes and sought to develop a bold style. An avid outdoorsman, Jackson became good friends with Tom Thomson, and the duo often fished and sketched together, beginning with a trip to Algonquin Park in fall 1914. Inspired by Thomson, Jackson and the other painters who would one day be known as the Group of Seven undertook trips to Algonquin Park, Georgian Bay, Algoma and the North Shore.

Arthur Lismer

Arthur Lismer

“An understanding of psychology, a touch for the maternal, and a capacity for looking at the world through the eyes of a child – these are the marks of good guides and teachers.”

Arthur Lismer, CC, was born on June 27, 1885. He was an English-Canadian painter and member of the Group of Seven. He is known for his paintings of ships in dazzle camouflage.

Lismer was a charter member of the Group of Seven and joined his fellow artists on painting trips to the Algoma region and north shore of Lake Superior. In 1928 he painted in the Rockies and from 1930 in the Atlantic provinces. His Impressionist-influenced paintings of the 1910s evolved into a more angular and cruder expression that he equated with the Canadian terrain and national identity. In his later work, Lismer concentrated on detailed foregrounds and tightly framed, close-up compositions of vegetation and land formations.

Lismer died on March 23, 1969 in Montreal, Quebec and was buried alongside other members of the Original Seven at the McMichael Gallery Grounds.

Francis Hans Johnston

Francis Hans Johnston

“It took us out into the open air to look at Canadian landscape as distinct from European landscape. It necessarily meant that each was free to look at the landscape which attracted him…”

 Frank Johnston (also known as Franz) was born on June 19, 1888 in Toronto. Like many other Group members, he joined Grip Engraving Co. as a commercial artist. He studied in Germany from 1904 to 1907. Although his official association with the Group of Seven was brief, his friendship with the artists dated back over a much longer period.

Johnston exhibited with The Group of Seven only once, in their first show at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the Art Gallery of Ontario) in May 1920. Johnston’s rate of production was such that in the 1919 Algoma show he contributed sixty works – more than any other artist. A few months later, he extended his independence even more, having a large one-man show of 200 paintings at the T. Eaton Company Galleries.

Franklin Carmichael

Franklin Carmichael

Franklin Carmichael was born on May 4, 1890 in Orillia, Ontario. Even at a young age, his artistic talents were already apparent, and so his mother enrolled him in both music and art lessons. In April 1920, the Group of Seven was established by Jackson, Harris, MacDonald, Lismer, Varley, Johnston and Carmichael. The group held its first exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto from May 7 to 27, 1920.

In 1922, Carmichael joined the Sampson-Matthews firm, a printmaking business. He likely worked as head designer under the art directorship of J.E. Sampson.

In 1925, Carmichael, Harris and Jackson ventured to the northern shore of Lake Superior. On the trip, Carmichael opted to use watercolor rather than his usual oil paints. He used watercolor consistently from this point onward, painting some of his most famous works with the medium. After this initial experience, he would return several more times to the lake, including in 1926 and 1928. This area on Lake Superior as well as the Northern shore of Lake Huron in the La Cloche mountains would be consistent themes in his work.

Frederick Horsman Varley

Frederick Horsman Varley

 “The artist’s job is to unlock fetters and release spirit, to tear to pieces and recreate so forcefully that… the imagination of the onlooker is awakened and completes within himself the work of art.”

Varley saw art as a spiritual vocation. His interest in the figure as well as landscape set him apart from other members of the Group of Seven, of which he was a founding member in 1920. One of Varley’s most famous works is Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay (1921), painted after a summer at Georgian Bay, yet he was primarily a figure and portrait painter.

After living in Ontario for a number of years, Varley moved to Vancouver, BC in 1926 where he became Head of the Department of Drawing and Painting at the School of Decorative and Applied Arts in Vancouver at the invitation of Charles Hepburn Scott. He remained in this position from 1926 until 1933. He left British Columbia in 1936 due to his experiences with depression, and two years later joined fellow artists on a trip to the Arctic in 1938. 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.