Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Tom Thomson and Algonquin Park

Algonquin Park has been a place to be enjoyed as a recreational destination for many years. Tom Thomson made his way to the Park for the first time in 1912. He was working at an artistic design firm as a draughtsman and did not consider that painting would ever be taken seriously. He enjoyed the fishing and did some sketching on the first trip.

Thomson is not one of the Group of Seven artists, however he did work alongside them. The Group was formed after his death. He died in the Park in 1917 under mysterious circumstances.

He would go into the Park in the very early spring, sketch and make very quick paintings on wooden boards he could slot into his painting kit. In the winter he would go to his studio in Toronto and use the painted sketches to create the grand canvases. 

In the summer/fall of 2014 the National Gallery of Canada had a special exhibit on Tom Thomson. We already have one of his most famous paintings here full-time, The Jack Pine. His other iconic large painting, The West Wind, is held by the Art Gallery of Ontario. It was part of the exhibit, the two paintings were in the same room with each other. In the corner they had his painting kit. Also, the sketches he had done for each of these paintings were alongside them so we could see the differences between the inspiration and the final masterpiece.

The following photos were taken in the special exhibition section. However, I have noted which gallery owns the paintings, so if you are going to a gallery, you may be able to catch a glimpse of them.
The Jack Pine, NGC
The West Wind, AGO
Spring Ice, NGC
Pine Island, Georgian Bay, NGC 
Northern River, NGC
Autumn`s Garland, NGC
One of the people that was a patron for Tom Thomson and some of the budding Group of Seven painters, was Toronto physician Dr. James MacCallum. He had a cabin on Georgian Bay where he thought the artists would have plenty of subject matter with the landscape nearby. The artists got together and painted a group of scenes that were hung around a room in the cabin. All the paintings in that room are in the National Gallery and they've constructed a room to view them in where they hang exactly as they hung in the cabin.

A portrait of Tom in the cabin painting
How the paintings went around the chimney
In another room they have an extensive collection of Thompson's sketches. Here is a picture of his sketching kit (that I've found online):
I spent quite a bit of time looking at the various sketches they have. Some are very evocative of the Park. He truly captures the beauty, the various seasons, the nature. I think a visit to this gallery is a great way to feel like you are in the Park especially when it's way too cold to paddle.

No trip to the National Gallery is complete without a stop at the gift shop. The following swag came home with me. A coffee table book (that was greatly reduced in price), a lovely china mug, and a jigsaw puzzle that took me FOREVER to make. It is a beautiful picture, beautiful quality, but 1000 pieces of crazy-making frustration.

There are a couple that have paddled extensively in Algonquin Park and they blog about their adventures. One of the things they have tried to do over the years is to figure out where exactly in the Park some of Tom Thomson's pictures were painted. 

Here is a link to one of their blog posts where they tried to find if "View From a Top of a Hill" was painted on Grand Lake. 

I enjoyed reading the book, "Canoe Lake" by Roy MacGregor. Here is the synopsis from Goodreads: "A troubled American woman travels to a small Ontario town, determined to find the mother she has never known. As she searches through dusty records and stirs up old memories among those around her, three young people emerge from the mists of the past…a beautiful woman named Jenny, a shy local boy named Russell, and a dark-eyed painter named Tom, who changes the course of Jenny and Russell’s lives. Historical reality and conjecture are skilfully interwoven with intrigue and suspense as these three move unwittingly toward tragedy."

It's a fictionalized account of what may have taken place.  

I read it alongside another one of Roy's book: "Northern Lights". Click here for the Goodreads synopsis. This version is not fictional, it's a collection of various facts around the mystery of Tom Thomson's death. I was able to borrow this book from the library.

Overall, Tom Thomson was painting the beauty of the Park for only 5 years. We can only imagine how great a loss this was. If he would have had another 20 years to paint and evolve and enjoy both the recognition and the financial benefit of the great works he was capable of, we would all be richer.


  1. I thought you might appreciate notice of my forthcoming book from Dundurn Press.

    Separating Fact from Fiction

    The book is available for pre-order, as either paperback of digital download.
    It is scheduled to hit shelves in May 2016.

    For more information, please see:

  2. Thanks! I'll keep an eye out for it.