Beginning in 1912, Defiant Spirits traces the artistic development of Tom Thomson and the future members of the Group of Seven, Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A. Y. Jackson, Franz Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J. E. H. MacDonald, and Frederick Varley, over a dozen years in Canadian history. Working in an eclectic and sometimes controversial blend of modernist styles, they produced what an English critic celebrated in the 1920s as the most vital group of paintings” of the 20th century. Inspired by Cézanne, Van Gogh and other modernist artists, they tried to interpret the Ontario landscape in light of the strategies of the international avant-garde. Based after 1914 in the purpose-built Studio Building for Canadian Art, the young artists embarked on what Lawren Harris called an all-engrossing adventure”: travelling north into the anadian Shield and forging a style of painting appropriate to what they regarded as the unique features of Canada’s northern landscape.
Rigorously researched and drawn from archival documents and letters, Defiant Spirits constitutes a group biography,” reconstructing the men’s aspirations, frustrations and achievements. It details not only the lives of Tom Thomson and the members of the Group of Seven but also the political and social history of Canada
Award-winning art historian King (The Judgment of Paris) recounts the evolution of the Algonquin School in this biography of seven remarkable Canadian artists. On the eve of WWI, a small group of talented painters converged in the art department of the Toronto design firm, Grip Limited. While the firm had introduced the nation to Art Nouveau and metal engraving, its designers had loftier ambitions to develop an artistic identity for Canada. Head Grip designer J.E.H. MacDonald found kindred spirits in Tom Thomson, Franklin Carmichael, A.Y. Jackson, Franz Johnston, Arthur Lismer, and Frederick Varley. The group's challenge to capture with " Canadian' eyes" the harsh landscape of the north on canvas led to extensive exploration of Algonquin Provincial Park. In 1914, the seven gathered at the purpose-built Studio Building for Canadian Art, where they would hone their skills and their vision, resulting in their first group exhibition at the Art Gallery of Toronto in 1921. After a productive decade and mounting criticism that their work had begun to settle into clich s, the group finally disbanded in 1931. Their paintings reflected what fellow artist Emily Carr called the "naked soul." King's book does an excellent job of exploring the roles of these visionary individuals in the shaping of an artistic cultural identity. With 24 pages of color plates and 43 black and white photos