Thomas John “Tom” Thomson An Influential Canadian Artist and The Group of Seven
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Thomas John “Tom” Thomson (August 5, 1877 — July 8, 1917) was an influential Canadian artist of the early 20th century. He directly influenced a group of Canadian painters that would come to be known as the Group of Seven, and though he died before they formally formed, he is sometimes incorrectly credited as being a member of the group itself. Thomson died under mysterious circumstances, which added to his mystique.
Thomson was largely self-taught. He was employed as a graphic designer with Toronto’s Grip Ltd., an experience which honed his draughtsmanship. Although he began painting and drawing at an early age, it was only in 1912, when Thomson was well into his thirties, that he began to paint seriously. His first trips to Algonquin Park inspired him to follow the lead of fellow artists in producing oil sketches of natural scenes on small, rectangular panels for easy portability while travelling. Between 1912 and his death in 1917, Thomson produced hundreds of these small sketches, many of which are now considered works in their own right, and are housed in such galleries as the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto and the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.
Thomson disappeared during a canoeing trip on Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park on July 8, 1917, and his body was discovered in the lake eight days later. The official cause of death was accidental drowning, but there were questions about how he actually died. Thomson’s body was examined by Dr. Goldwin Howland, and interred in Mowat Cemetery, near Canoe Lake, the day after his body was discovered. Under the direction of his older brother, George Thomson, the body was exhumed two days later and re-interred in the family plot beside the Leith Presbyterian Church on July 21.
In 1935, Blodwen Davies published the first exploration of Thomson’s death outside of newspaper accounts from the time of Thomson’s death. As this was a self-published edition of 500 copies, her doubts about the official decision of cause of death did not receive wide attention. An edited version of her text was published posthumously in 1967.
In 1970, Judge William Little published a book, The Tom Thomson Mystery, recounting how – during 1956 – he and three friends dug up Thomson’s original gravesite, in Mowat Cemetery on Canoe Lake.They believed that remains they found were Thomson’s. In the fall of 1956, medical investigators determined that the body was that of an unidentified Aboriginal.
Since his death, Thomson’s work has grown in value and popularity. In 2002, the National Gallery of Canada staged a major exhibition of his work, giving Thomson the same level of prominence afforded Picasso, Renoir, and the Group of Seven in previous years. In recent decades, the increased value of Thomson’s work has led to the discovery of numerous forgeries of his work on the market.
Some Thomson’s Paintings
Tom Thomson’s Forest Undergrowth
Tom Thomson’s The Jack Pine 1916–17
Tom Thomson’s Pine Island, Georgian Bay
Tom Thomson’s April in Algonquin Park 1917
Tom Thomson’s The West Wind