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Defiant Spirits

Acclaimed biographer Ross King traces the artistic development of Tom Thomson and the future members of the Group of Seven.

Ross King

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 one English critic in the 1920s called the "most vital group of paintings" of the 20th century.

Governor General's Literary Award-winning author Ross King recounts the turbulent years during which a group of young Canadian painters went from obscurity to international renown. Sumptuously illustrated, rigorously researched and drawn from archival documents and letters, Defiant Spirits constitutes a "group biography," reconstructing the men's aspirations, frustrations and achievements. (From Douglas & MacIntyre)

Read an excerpt | Author interviews

From the book

For the past few years, the Grand Trunk Railway (whose president, Charles Melville Hays, perished on rms Titanic less than a month earlier) had been transporting affluent tourists and overworked city dwellers into the Ontario hinterlands for what a 1910 issue of Rod and Gun in Canada called "a rest cure in a canoe." Canoes and fishing rods were widely publicized antidotes for modern ills and anxieties at a time when the urban population of Ontario for the first time outnumbered the rural. Promoting itself as the "Highway to Health and Happiness," the Grand Trunk advertised Algonquin Provincial Park in full-page spreads as one of "the beauty spots of the Dominion" that appealed to sportsmen, nature lovers and artists alike. "This country is increasing in popularity every year," declared one advertisement, "and has become a favourite tourist resort of Britons and Americans who are flocking to this country for their vacation in increasing numbers." The company already operated two lakefront hotels: the thirty-five-room Hotel Algonquin at Joe Lake Station and the seventy five-room Highland Inn on Cache Lake. In 1912 there were plans for two more.


From Defiant Spirits by Ross King ©2010. Published by Douglas & MacIntyre.

Author interviews

Shelagh's full length interview. 34:40
The author, most recently, of Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies on his favourite painter, what makes Dante better than Shakespeare, and more. 6:04
Author Ross King talks about his summer spent shovelling manure on a Saskatchewan farm 1:17

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