Hollywood movies and European-styled paintings were showing a false image of Canada. “Many Canadians felt a growing need to portray their land more honestly.”1 The Group of Seven was a group of landscape painters who took up the challenge and transformed the misleading and stereotyped ways that Canada and its people were portrayed in. The seven founding artists of the famous Group were: Lawren S. Harris, J.E.H. MacDonald, Arthur Lismer, Frederick Varley, Frank Johnston, Franklin Carmichael and A.Y. Jackson.
Before the Group of Seven emerged from Toronto, Canadian landscape painting often imitated European styles and themes. The Group were regarded as the creators of a national style of painting that did not use the academic formulas of painting found in Europe. They chose to revive Canadian art and create a new tradition that did not rely on European trends. The efforts of the Group of Seven changed the perception of Canadian art as art that should have a European sensibility to that which should be unique to Canada.
The paintings of the Group of Seven represent a landscape that is distinctly Canadian. The Group of Seven emerged during a time of an absence of a defined Canadian art and after World War I, the war from which Canada emerged with an even stronger feeling of nationalism. Members shared a similar dissatisfaction with the state of Canadian art and wanted to paint in a truly Canadian artistic style. “One important outcome of the Group’s nationalism was their attempt to convince Canadians that they needed to have an art of their own if Canada were to be a great country.”2 They gave many Canadians a sense of national identity and enabled them to discover the beauty of their own country.
The Group of Seven inspired a national art. “A number of their paintings have become icons of Canada.”3 They painted trees, rocks, and lakes that capture the spirit of the wilderness and the Canadian identity. Most Canadian artists before the emergence of the Group of Seven painted scenes of cows and trees in the best academic tradition with lots of detail and dark brown colouring. The Group of Seven’s work freed artists all over Canada and made it possible for them to see and paint the Canadian scene in their own way. This change in attitude made it possible for new artists to experiment and create a national art in Canada.
The Group of Seven created a new sense of national pride and self-awareness in Canada. “They succeeded in giving Canada an art that is now accepted as distinctively Canadian, and an art that has impressed itself on the Canadian consciousness so indelibly that it has almost become a cliché.”4 By the 1920s, the Group of Seven led a general reorientation of Canadian painting. The Group of Seven had achieved acclaim internationally, won their fight against the Canadian Academy, and found acceptance at home.