New stamps, digital project mark centenary of Group of Seven's debut

On the 100th anniversary of the Group of Seven's inaugural exhibit, the influential art collective is being recognized with efforts putting their distinctively Canadian paintings in front of a fresh crop of art lovers.

Influential art collective slated for first German exhibit this fall

Canada Post is celebrating the centennial of the Group of Seven's inaugural exhibit with a brand new stamp series featuring works by its founding members. (Canada Post Corporation)

On May 7, 1920, the Group of Seven unveiled its first formal exhibition, showcasing more than 120 paintings at what was then the Art Gallery of Toronto. Only a handful of the paintings sold, but about 2,000 people took in their artwork over the show's three-week run.

According to the gallery, now the Art Gallery of Ontario, that first outing garnered mixed reviews. "Seven Painters Show Some Excellent Work" touted the Toronto Daily Star newspaper, while the Canadian Courier asked "Are these new Canadian painters crazy?"

Now, on the 100th anniversary of that inaugural exhibit, the Group of Seven is being recognized with multiple efforts that put their paintings — showcasing an influential, distinctively Canadian aethestic and vision of our vast country — in front of a fresh crop of art lovers today.

Canada Post unveiled Thursday morning a new issue of stamps featuring paintings by the Group's founding members — Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald and Frederick Varley — to celebrate the anniversary. 

The works featured are:

  • In the Nickel Belt (1928), by Franklin Carmichael.
  • Miners' Houses, Glace Bay (circa 1925), by Lawren Harris.
  • Labrador Coast (1930), by A.Y. Jackson.
  • Fire-swept, Algoma (1920), by Frank H. Johnston.
  • Quebec Village (1926), by Arthur Lismer.
  • Church by the Sea (1924), by J.E.H. MacDonald.
  • Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay (1921), by Frederick Varley.

The paintings featured come from the collections of six major Canadian galleries across the country. The project also highlights archival photos of each artist from the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.

Also on Thursday, the McMichael — the art gallery built upon a landmark collection of Group of Seven paintings — announced a partnership with Google to digitize up to 200 of the group's works. 

Ian Dejardin, executive director of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, is seen at the gallery in 2017. The McMichael has teamed with Google to digitize up to 200 Group of Seven works. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC News)

Once completed, it will become the largest digital collection of Group of Seven pieces, according to the Kleinburg, Ont., gallery.

In the interim, the tech giant's arts & culture team pulled together a quick digital profile introducing the Group of Seven to an international audience and created a virtual tour of sorts, by matching several paintings with current Google Street View images of the locations that inspired them.

The McMichael had already kicked off the centenary celebrations in January with the vast exhibition A Like Vision: The Group of Seven at 100, showcasing masterpieces by every member of the group and set to remain on display through December. Though currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the gallery will also unveil in September a complementary exhibit that spotlights female Canadian art pioneers, called Uninvited: Canadian Women Artists in the Modern Movement.

Art lovers abroad will also be introduced to the Group of Seven this fall. 

The Group is scheduled for its first exhibition in Germany with the debut of Magnetic North: Imagining Canada in Painting 1910-1940, slated to run at the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt from late September through early January. 

Co-organized by and featuring work on loan from the Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery of Canada, the exhibit coincides with Canada being named guest of honour for the 2020 edition of the Frankfurt Book Fair.