The crowds were lined up all the way down the road outside Dulwich Picture Gallery in London when an exhibit of 122 paintings by Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven was displayed last year.
That exhibit, which also showed in the Netherlands and in Oslo, now has its Canadian showing at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection gallery in Kleinburg, Ont.
While the McMichael is associated with the celebrated landscape artists and usually has Group of Seven work on display, this exhibit also includes works that are in private collections and rarely seen by the public.
Ian Dejardin, executive director the Dulwich Picture Gallery and curator of the show, says Thomson, the influential early 20th century Canadian painter known for images such as The Jack Pine, is little known in Europe.
It was Thomson's influence as a painter of Canadian nature that helped the Group of Seven — Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A. Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J. E. H. MacDonald and Frederick Varley — turn their eyes to Canadian landscapes,
"There's no name recognition at all in Europe for the Group of Seven," Dejardin told CBC News. "I think it's because you Canadians keep them to yourselves."
Dejardin first came across their work 27 years ago, when he was working at the Royal Academy in London and was struck by their distinctive style.
"I made a mental note that if I ever was in a position of power, I’d have an exhibit of their work," he said.
He worked for two years, co-ordinating with the National Gallery of Canada, the McMichael and Art Gallery of Ontario, to get the work to Europe. He hoped others would see what he had – the beautiful light, the uniquely twisted forms of the trees and the powerful images of water that were unlike paintings by European artists.
He said he didn’t expect crowds, or the rave reviews the art received. "I’m still reeling," he said.
The Group of Seven are each represented in the exhibit, with an additional nine paintings not included in the European tour.
McMichael curator Katerina Atanassova says she's confident these 122 paintings get just as enthusiastic response from the hometown crowd.
"I was beaming with a sense of pride everywhere I went in Europe and I was at awe at how our art, our homegrown talent was recognized and I hope Canadians feel just as proud as I was," she said.
Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven will be at the McMichael gallery from Nov. 3 to Jan. 6, 2013.