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The Group of Seven: The myth of the unspoiled wilderness

The Story

"Let's have Christmas cards with pictures of the Spanish Inquisition!" This unlikely ouburst comes as playwright John Gray debates the legacy of the Group of Seven with columnist Michael Valpy. Valpy denounces the "fraudulent mythology" represented by the Group. He says their paintings let Canadians idealize nature when, in fact, we don't value the unspoiled wilderness depicted in the Group's work. But Gray disagrees, saying the Group's work gives Canadians hope. 

Medium: Television
Program: Midday
Broadcast Date: Feb. 22, 1996
Guests: John Gray, Michael Valpy
Host: Tina Srebotnjak
Duration: 8:44
Thanks to Line Reeh for research assistance

Did You know?

• Some modern critics have noted a remarkable absence in the Group's wilderness paintings: that of Canadian aboriginal people. Curator and critic Scott Watson has noted that "the Group's wilderness is politicized, disputed territory...a prior cultural claim to their landscape is utterly suppressed and hidden in their painting."

• Not all the Group's wilderness paintings were bereft of a human mark on the land. J.E.H. MacDonald and Lawren Harris both painted lumber drives early in their careers, Thomson depicted a river dam, and Jackson showed an icebreaker in paintings of Canada's Arctic and native people in his West Coast paintings.

The Group of Seven: Art for a Nation opened at the National Gallery of Canada in the fall of 1995 to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Group's first show. It was the first major retrospective of the Group's work in 25 years and also travelled to Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

• John Gray is a prolific Canadian playwright who's well known for his 1978 play Billy Bishop Goes to War. He's also a writer of fiction and non-fiction, and was a regular commentator on CBC's The Journal.
• Michael Valpy regularly writes about religion, the monarchy and many other topics for the Globe and Mail.


The Group of Seven: Painters in the Wilderness more