reaches back half a century to describe the rebellions origins of THE GROUP OF SEVEN Here are his intimate recollections of many of our most renowned artists, and some biting reflections on the place of art in Canada

A.Y. Jackson October 11 1958


reaches back half a century to describe the rebellions origins of THE GROUP OF SEVEN Here are his intimate recollections of many of our most renowned artists, and some biting reflections on the place of art in Canada

A.Y. Jackson October 11 1958


A.Y. Jackson

reaches back half a century to describe the rebellions origins of THE GROUP OF SEVEN Here are his intimate recollections of many of our most renowned artists, and some biting reflections on the place of art in Canada

If there is a dean of Canadian painting, one of the two or three top contenders for the title must be A. Y. Jackson, who for almost half a century has been painting the Canadian wilderness in all its facets. Jackson’s paintings, once attacked and reviled as "art gone mad,” are now among the most prized acquisitions of Canadian collectors. Now, at the age of 76. Jackson has set down his memories of how the once controversial Group of Seven (of which he was a charter member) came into being.

The year was 1913. Jackson, who had given up commercial art to become a full-time painter, was back from a study period in France and working away in a small Quebec village when he received a letter from J. E. H. MacDonald, another young artist whom he admired, but had never met.

IVÏ acDONALD S LETTER was about Edge of a Maple Wood, a canvas 1 had painted in 1910. If 1 still possessed it, he wrote, a young Toronto artist, Lawren Harris, wanted to buy it. It 1 still possessed it! I still possessed everything I had ever painted. MacDonald wrote also about the belief of some of the younger Toronto artists that it was time Canadian painters relied less on European traditions and began to paint our own country as it was. The immediate result of MacDonald’s letter was that Harris bought my canvas. A second result was that I began my association with the artists responsible for changing the course of Canadian art.

When next 1 went to Berlin, Ont., to visit my

aunts 1 stopped off at Toronto to meet MacDonald, and by him I was introduced to Arthur Lismer. Fred Varley, and other artists at the Arts and Letters Club. All were commercial artists, employed by the Grip company, designers and illustrators.

I was received by MacDonald and the others as a kindred spirit. Like them, 1 had been a commercial artist for years. Now I had thrown up that job to devote myself exclusively to painting, and had, at the moment, no idea how I was going to live while I was doing it.

Lawren Harris was, I found, a young man, well educated, widely traveled, and well-to-do; his grandfather had been one of the founders of the Massey-Harris Company. To him art was almost a mission. He believed that a country that ignored the arts left no record of itself worth preserving. With MacDonald, Lismer, Varley and others, whose acquaintance he had recently made, he believed that art in Canada should assume a more aggressive role, and he had exalted ideas about the place of the artist in the community. Looking back after all these years, 1 can think of no one who has so consistently devoted himself to increasing the public’s interest in the arts. In 1913, however, he was planning a more practical form of aid for artists. With his friend. Dr. MacCallum, he was engaged in constructing a building in Toronto where artists might live and work in comfort.

.1. E. H. MacDonald, while he lacked the energy and initiative of Harris, was probably the first to dream of a school continued on page 77

Continued from page 18

of painting in Canada that would realize the wealth of motifs we had all round us. That he was a designer before he was a painter is evident in almost everything he painted. He was, too. an ardent naturalist who loved, in his designs, Canadian motifs—the trillium, pine trees, blue jays, and various kinds of wildlife. In ois early paintings there were always to be found the homely things around the farmhouse, the woodpile, the picket fence, the pump, shingled roofs, pumplins ripening on the back veranda, the Lind of thing other painters ignored. He taught Tom Thomson much about design; later it was the big Thomson canvases that inspired many of MacDonald’s own notable paintings.

Late in September I moved into a bathing shack on Portage Island, in Georgian Bay, and started to paint seriously.

It became obvious that it was going to be difficult to keep my living quarters warm. There were large cracks between the boards through which the cold came pouring. I was at work one day covering them up with birchbark, when a motorboat nosed onto my beach. The owner introduced himself; he was Dr. James MacCallum, the friend of Lawren Harris. He wanted to see the work 1 was doing. I showed him, and he liked it. Then he inspected the shack, pronounced it rather draughty, and said he would send someone to take me to his place at Go Home Bay where I could live in a comfortable house. When he started back I went along with him part way toward Penetang with my boat in tow.

"Where are you going when you leave the Bay?” he asked.

I said that I would probably go to the States.

"If all you young fellows go off to the States,” he growled, "art in Canada is never going to get anywhere.”

Then he made me a surprising proposition. If I would take a studio in the building he and Harris were having erected, he would guarantee my expenses for a year. Of course I accepted.

After painting in Europe where everything was mellowed by time and human association, 1 found it a problem to paint a country in outward appearance pretty much as it had been when Champlain passed through. I did a lot of work, both canvases and sketches. The canvases were direct transcripts from nature. One of them, Maple in the Pine Woods, was among the paintings that later roused to anger the critics of the Group of Seven. It wasn’t sold for forty years.

At the end of October I closed up the house. It was more than five years before I saw Georgian Bay again. In Toronto, Lawren Harris had a studio on the top floor of the branch of the Bank of Commerce at Bloor and Yonge Streets; it is now occupied by the Toronto Ladies’ Club. I stayed there until the Studio Building was ready for occupation, working on my large canvas, Terre Sauvage, which MacDonald called Mount Ararat, because, he said, it looked

“We criticized the National Gallery and expected to be black-listed. The chairman came to see us”

like the first land that appeared after the Flood subsided.

One day, Dr. MacCallum brought to Harris’ studio a shy young fellow by the name of Tom Thomson, who had just returned from Algonquin Park with a number of sketches, meticulous but faithful records of rough bush country. Thomson was an employee of the Grip company, and Dr. MacCallum was try-

ing to persuade him to drop commercial art and devote all his time to painting. Thomson was dubious about his ability to make a living out of his painting, doubtful also of his own talents. MacCallum made him the same offer he had made to me: to guarantee his expenses if he would devote a year to painting. At first Thomson would not entertain the idea. He wanted to paint for his own

pleasure and to earn his living at commercial art. He enjoyed going off with his canoe and a tent for three or four months of the year to paint, but to make painting his life work, he felt, was to take his abilities too seriously. Finally he decided to try it for a year. Early in January 1914. Thomson and I took over a studio together in the new building, and settled down to work.

Apart from the notable contribution made to Canadian art by Harris himself, the work done there by MacDonald and Thomson alone was well worth all the effort and expense involved in putting up the Studio Building. The building was a lively centre for new ideas, experiments, discussions, plans for the future and visions of an art inspired by the Canadian countryside. It was, of course, to be a northern movement.

We were inclined to be very vocal about our ideas. Harris and I wrote letters to the papers, criticizing the National Gallery for its neglect of Canadian art. We expected to be black-listed by the gallery for our effrontery; instead, Sir Edmund Walker, chairman of the board of trustees, came around to see Harris and asked to know what all the fuss was about. Harris told him of our intention to paint our own country and to put life into Canadian art. Sir Edmund said that was just what the National Gallery wanted to see happen; if it did, the gallery would back us up. The gallery was as good as its word.

Tom Thomson was a dedicated artist, and a good companion. He would tell me about canoe trips, wildlife, fishing, things about which 1 knew nothing. In turn I would talk to him of Europe, the art schools, famous paintings I had seen and the Impressionist school which I admired. He had seen nothing in the way of art except the second-rate paintings which came to the Canadian National Exhibitions in Toronto.

From time to time Dr. MacCallum would drop in, look over our sketches and pretend to be very critical of them. “You fellows must have something wrong with your eyesight.” he would say. Then, just before he left, he would add, “Well, I think I'll take this one along with me,” and he would dig into his pocket for some bills.

Many of our young artists spend years learning the technique of painting, and then are turned loose with no particular convictions about what to paint. With Thomson there was no uncertainty at all about what he wanted to do. His task, and one in which he succeeded, was to acquire a technique that suited his purpose perfectly.

The only country he knew or cared about was the bush country of northern Ontario. He talked of his beloved Algonquin Park so much that I decided to see it for myself. I arrived there late one night in February when it was forty-five degrees below zero.

Here, Thomson’s name was a password. It was a ragged country; a lumber company had slashed it up, and fire had run through it. Then the lumber company had gone bankrupt. Thomson was much indebted to the lumber companies. They had built dams and log chutes, and had made clearings for camps. But for them the landscape would have been just bush, difficult to travel in and with nothing to paint.

Shortly after I returned to Toronto. Thomson went to Canoe Lake with Lismer. It was Lismer’s first adventure of that nature and very thrilling for him: on the other hand his loose style of impressionistic painting was a revelation to Thomson, whose work up to that time was inclined to be factual and meticulous.

About the same time I got a commission to paint in the construction camps of the Canadian Northern Railway which was laying track through the Rocky Mountains. I made many sketches which

were never used, as the railway which had commissioned them went bankrupt during the war. Later I came to the conclusion that mountains were not in my line, and I kept throwing the sketches into the furnace until none was left.

In the autumn, when I joined Thomson in Algonquin Park on my return from the Rocky Mountains, 1 found that he, had made remarkable progress. That autumn of 1914 w'as wonderful, with sunny days and frosty nights. Thomson was an expert canoeman who padled like an Indian. Using the weight i f his body more than his arms, he could keep going all day with no sign of fatigue. I sat in the bottom of the canoe keeping a lookout for subjects. We worked on little birch panels; traveling by canoe and living in a tent made it impossible to work on larger sizes.

Sometimes Thomson got discouraged. 1 remember one night, after a frustrating day. he hurled his sketch box into the woods and said he was going to paint no more. The next morning we hunted for the box. found it, and took it to Bud Callaghan, the warden, to be repaired.

On my return to Toronto 1 worked up my painting Red Maple. But 1 could not settle down to serious work. The war made me restless. Besides, the year during which Dr. MacCallum had undertaken to guarantee my expenses was now up. 1 left Toronto and returned to Montreal with the intention of joining the army.

Thomson turned art north

After I left. Thomson could not afford to pay the rent of the studio alone and he moved into the shack, an old cabinetmaker's shop, behind the Studio Building. He had had a great year, and he believed now that a field of adventure in painting lay ahead for him. True, he lived in a shack and had no money, and only a very few' people had any faith in him. None of this dampened his ardor, or weakened his determination to devote himself exclusively to painting.

It was not Thomson who projected the new art movement. When I arrived in Toronto in 1913, the idea of a form of art that was to develop here was fairly well crystallized, and MacDonald. Harris and Lismer were all enthusiastic about it. sor was it Thomson alone who directed the movement toward the north. There were a number of other artists who shared his love of the north country, who paddled and camped, worked as fire rangers and sketched in every corner of it. Thomson was never a member of the Group of Seven; his untimely death prevented that. Yet his contribution to the movement that eventually found expression in the group cannot be measured.

To most people Thomson's country was a monotonous dreary waste, yet out of one little stretch he found riches undreamed of. Not knowing all the conventional definitions of beauty, he found it all beautiful: muskeg, burnt and drowned land, log chutes, beaver dams, creeks, wild rivers and placid lakes, wild flowers, northern lights, the flight of wild geese and the changing seasons from spring to summer to autumn. He was never able to do much sketching in summer.

• ince he was compelled to supplement his meagre income by acting as a guide and taking out fishing parties.

When you look over Thomson's sketches, you are struck by the slightness of the motif which induced the painting; he made endless variations on the same subject matter. Imagination and fine craftsmanship endow it with a life of its own. Seldom, in his painting, is there

the feeling of being tied down to a particular place.

Most of what we know about Tom Thomson has been recorded in a little book by Blodwen Davies. Many articles have been written about him but these add little to what we already know. He left no records or letters. He was a silent man. interested in the technical side of painting, not the theoretical or philosophical. He took many chances, running rapids alone, paddling in stormy weather, carrying a canoe across rough portages, yet he died on a quiet day with

only a drizzle of rain, a few yards from shore in a small lake he knew intimately. He was unknown except to a few friends and his death passed almost unnoticed. It was not till years later when he had been acclaimed a genius that strange tales were told about his having been the victim of foul play. These tales persist, as do others of mysterious canoemen who are supposed to haunt the lakes he frequented. and who disappear suddenly when hailed.

I never saw him again after we said good-by in Toronto.

1 was at Shoreham in England when 1 received, from .1. E. H. MacDonald, a letter telling me about an empty canoe and an artist missing in faraway Algonquin Park. The thought of getting back to the north country with Thomson, and going farther afield with him on painting trips after the war was over, had always buoyed me up when the going was rough. Now I would never go sketching with Tom Thomson again.

Meanwhile, the Canadian War Records was being formed under Lord Beaverbrook for the purpose of making a pic-

torial record of Canada’s achievements in the war, and I received orders to report to London for an interview with Beaverbrook. At the Shoreham Station I bought Canada in Flanders, a book written by His Lordship, and read it on the way to London. The conversation with Beaverbrook was brief.

“So, you are an artist? Are you a good artist?”

"That is not for me to say, sir.”

"Have you any of your work with you?”

"I have been in the infantry for over two years and cannot carry it with me.”

"Can you find any of your work?"

"1 might find some examples in The Studio.”

“The Studio? What’s that?”

I explained that it was an arts magazine and he advised me to try and find some copies.

“So you are in the 60th Battalion?” he asked. “Your colonel does not like me.”

"That’s no concern of mine, sir.”

“Have you read my book?”

“Yes, sir.”

That ended the interview. I went on to the offices of The Studio where an obliging clerk looked up some back numbers with articles on my work, which I took to his hotel to show His Lordship. They were very flattering opinions and he was impressed by them. 1 did not tell him they were written by my old friend Mortimer Lamb.

1 had to see Lord Beaverbrook again.

1 awaited his arrival in his office where his little secretary, Sgt. Alexander, had his mail all arranged in piles of greater and lesser importance. He was poised with his notebook ready when His Lordship blew in like a cyclone. Beaverbrook read rapidly through the first letters, and began a running fire of instructions to Alexander. "Tell Winston Churchill I will have lunch with him tomorrow at one. Tell Bonar Law I will see him at eight o'clock tonight. Tell Lloyd George to meet me on Thursday afternoon at four.” He looked at me; for a moment he had forgotten who I was. Then, "Alexander,” he said, “make this man a lieutenant.” And he was gone as swiftly as he had come.

When I went to France and reported at Headquarters the staff major said, “One of Beaverbrook’s men, eh? I’d cheerfully shoot him through the back.”

Most of the artists with the Canadian War Records were British. In Canada it was urged that more Canadians be commissioned, so in the spring of 1918 Maurice Cullen, J. W. Beatty, Charles Simpson and Fred Varley came over, all with the rank of captain. Getting to the front in 1918 was difficult. Simpson did not get to France at all and Varley not until the final offensive had started. But it was an exciting time and Varley responded by painting some of the finest work in our war records. I was not in France during these days. Simpson and I had received twenty-four hours’ notice to go to Siberia with the expeditionary force which was being organized to support the White Russians, and we found ourselves back in Canada receiving instructions and getting information about extra equipment. The Armistice was signed while I was in Canada and the Siberian affair collapsed. All I got out of it was twenty tubes of white paint. It was probably this paint that was responsible for my becoming a snow painter as I had to find some use for it.

I took a studio on the top floor of the Studio Building. All Thomson's work was stored there. West Wind, Chill November, and a dozen other canvases, and about two hundred sketches. They were

not even insured. At today’s prices they would be worth over a hundred thousand dollars.

After Thomson’s death the shack was used occasionally by Williamson, Varley and others. Gradually it fell into disrepair; it was uncared for, the roof leaked, the floor rotted and the back wall, built against a hill, gave way and mud flowed in. In this condition, it was rented by Keith Maclver, a prospector, who had seen worse shacks up north. He built a new roof, a floor and a concrete wall at the back, and the shed made a good winter home for himself and his dog. Brownie. The artists from the Studio Building took a hand in decorating the place.

The shack is much less impressive than Casa Loma, but much more important historically. Thomson’s best work was all produced in Toronto although Toronto did very little for him. He lived on next to nothing but, whatever economies he was forced to practice, he never saved money on colors. After he died his masterpiece, The West Wind, was offered to the Art Gallery of Toronto for six hundred and fifty dollars. The

offer was turned down. The canvas was sent to Wembley to the famous exhibition of which 1 shall tell later, where it was much admired. On its return the National Gallery proposed to buy it. At the last minute Dr. Harold Tovell persuaded the Canadian Club to purchase it and present it to the Art Gallery of Toronto. But for Dr. Tovcll’s efforts there would have been not one of Thomson’s canvases in the gallery.

If there was any spiritual awakening as a result of the war it was not in evidence in Toronto; nor did it extend to the arts. There never had been less interest in painting.

MacDonald had advised me to send my canvas, Terre Sauvage, to the exhibition at the Academy in Montreal. It had not been previously exhibited. The painting got past the jury as the work of a returned hero; immediately afterward the row started. The critics tore it to pieces; only Mortimer Lamb came to my defense.

In the autumn, Harris arranged a sketching party in Algoma and had a boxcar fitted up with bunks and a stove to accommodate us. In addition to a canoe, we had a three-wheel jigger, worked by hand, to go up and down the tracks.

The boxcar became a studio, and the party consisted of Harris. MacDonald, Frank Johnston and myself. Our car was hitched to the passenger train or the way freight. When we reached a place where we wished to paint it was

left on a siding where the only inhabitants were the section men.

I always think of Algoma as MacDonald’s country. He was a quiet, unadventurous person, who could not swim, or paddle, or swing an axe, or find his way in the bush. He was awed and thrilled by the landscape of Algoma and he got the feel of it in his painting. He loved the big panorama; Solemn Land, Mist Fantasy, Gleams on the Hills were some of the titles of his paintings.

The nights were frosty, but in the boxcar we were snug. Discussions and arguments would last until late in the night, ranging from Plato to Picasso, to Madame Blavatsky and Mary Baker Eddy. Harris, a Baptist who later became a theosophist, and MacDonald, a Presbyterian who was interested in Christian Science, inspired many of the arguments. Outside, the aurora played antics in the sky, and the murmur of the rapids or a distant waterfall blended with the silence of the night. Every few days we would have our boxcar moved to another siding.

Since this country was on the height of land, there were dozens of lakes, many of them not on the map. For identification purposes we gave them names. The bright sparkling lakes we named after people we admired like Thomson and MacCallum; to the swampy ones, all messed up with moose tracks, we gave the names of the critics who disparaged us.

The Algoma country was too opulent for Harris; he wanted something bare and stark, so at the conclusion of the sketching trip he and I went to the north shore of Lake Superior, a country much of which had been burnt over years before. I know of no more impressive scenery in Canada for the landscape painter. There is a sublime order to it, the long curves of the beaches, the sweeping ranges of hills, and headlands that push out into the lake. Inland there are intimate little lakes, stretches of muskeg, outcrops of rock; there is little soil for agriculture. In the autumn the whole country glows with color; the huckleberry and the pin cherry turn crimson, the mountain ash is loaded with red berries, the poplar and the birch turn yellow and the tamarac greenish gold.

We chose our campsites with great care, always near water, protected from wind, and on ground that sloped away from the tent. In poor painting weather we built a big stone fireplace where we

could sit and gossip until it was time to turn in. We had no stove in the tent, so we dug a trench between our sleeping bags, which we filled up with hot embers from the fire. Then we would close up the tent and turn in comfortably even on cold nights.

When we camped near a sand beach we went in swimming although the water was very cold. Harris, who liked to have a system for everything, worked out one for bathing in cold water. We would start off far up on the beach, then run at the lake, waving our arms and yelling like wild Indians. This procedure was supposed to distract our attention from the cold water.

It was a strenuous life. Harris was up before daylight, making a lot of noise with pots and pans as he got breakfast. The rain would be pattering on the tent when Harris would call, “Come on, get up.”

“What’s the use of getting up,” I would growl. “It’s raining.”

“It is clearing in the west,” was Harris' invariable reply.

So I would get up, breakfast, and we would go off in the rain. Three days later when it stopped raining, Harris would say, “I told you it was clearing.”

Pilloried in the press

One of Harris’ fads was for Roman Meal. He claimed it made us impervious to wet and cold, and we had a large bowl of it each morning. At a later date we got a folding stove for these expeditions; it was practical, it kept the tent dry and warm, but we couldn't see a glimmer of light from it. Harris dubbed it the gloom box.

Then the approach of winter sent us back to Toronto. The newspapers had been busy with our paintings in our absence, and had a great many unpleasant things to say about us and our work. One of them, commenting on Harris' painting, said that if it was allowed to continue it would discourage immigration to Canada.

The year I made my first trip to the Arctic, Lismer went with Harris to Lake Superior. It rained continuously. Harris carried a large sketching umbrella, and he kept on working while Lismer sulked in the tent. He had thrown his packsack in a corner; as he looked at it with half-closed eyes, it began to assume the form of a big island lying off the mainland; the straps became a ridge of rock

in the foreground and the light coming through the folds of the tent became an intriguing sky. When Harris returned there was a sketch in Lismer's box.

"Gosh, Arthur,” said Harris, “where did you get that? It's a beauty, the best thing you've done."

There is a large canvas of Harris', entitled North Shore, Lake Superior, which won the gold medal at an exhibition in Baltimore: it shows a big pine stump right in the centre of the canvas and Lake Superior shimmering in the background. Among the members of the group it was known as The Grand Trunk. I was with him when he found the stump, which was almost lost in the bush: from its position we could not see Lake Superior at all. Harris isolated the trunk and created a nobler background for it.

In February 1920 I snowshoed from Penetang to Franceville on Georgian Bay and painted there until I went out by boat in April. When I reached Toronto the first thing I heard was that the Group of Seven had been formed and that I was a member of it.

Had it not been for the war, the group would have been formed several years earlier and it would have included Thomson. Even before the war, we had attempted to interpret Canada and to express. in paint, the spirit of our country. The men who formed the first group dedicated to the purpose, and who turned their backs on the European tradition, were Lawren Harris, Arthur Lismer, J. E. H. MacDonald, Fred Varley. Frank Johnston, Frank Carmichael and myself. The organization was a loose one: it had a name and a purpose but it had no officers, no bylaws and no fees.

Our first exhibition had a very poor reception. Some people were amused, and some indignant. Some members threatened to resign from the Art Gallery of Toronto. In the catalogue it was announced that “the artists invite adverse criticism. Indifference is the greatest evil they have to contend with.” There was plenty of adverse criticism, a great deal of it mere abuse—much of it from people who had not even seen the exhibition. It came not only from laymen but from artists as well. "Products of a deranged mind,” “art gone mad,” "the cult of ugliness”; these were some of the terms used to describe paintings which, whatever their faults, attempted to depict the Canadian scene sincerely and honestly.

The only possible explanation for the uproar caused by that first exhibition is that we, in Canada, had become so accustomed to seeing paintings that were made according to a European formula that a simple portrayal of a Canadian subject was incomprehensible to us.

Looking back after thirty-eight years it is difficult to know now what all the shouting was about. Paintings that were in the first exhibition are now in our National Gallery, in Hart House, the Art Gallery of Toronto, and in private collections all over Canada. Nowadays they are considered “sound and sane art,” to use the expression that one of our most virulent critics employed to praise dull academic pictures.

One result of the opposition was that we were confirmed in our resolution to carry on. While the bad publicity received did not bother us, it did have an immediate consequence: Frank Johnston resigned from the group. From the economic standpoint he had difficulty in earning a living from his painting. People were afraid to buy pictures that were the subject of ridicule.

In 1924 the authorities of the British Empire Exhibition, to be held at Wem-

bley, invited the National Gallery of Canada to send an exhibition of Canadian paintings to England. The invitation was accepted. Instead of co-operating with the gallery the Royal Canadian Academy insisted on controlling the exhibition. On this demand being refused, the executives of the academy advised its members to boycott the exhibition.

The president of the academy, Horne Russell, wrote to the London Times explaining why the Canadian exhibition was going to be a failure. When the press notices arrived from London they were so enthusiastic about Canadian pictures that the detractors of Canadian art at home could only splutter. As many of our newspapers failed to publish the favorable reports on Canadian art at Wembley, the National Gallery reprinted them in a booklet.

The very favorable notices in the British press on the Canadian paintings at Wembley made good copy for the next exhibition of the Group of Seven. We used some of them in an advertisement:

GROUP OF SEVEN Art Gallery of Toronto



They are garish, they are loud, affected, freakish —TORONTO STAR

A single, narrow and rigid formula of ugliness


A school of landscape painters who are strongly racy of the soil


The foundation of what may become one of the greatest schools of landscape painting


Gradually the criticism in Toronto of the group’s painting died down; only Hector Charlesworth, "old Heck” as we called him, continued to thunder in Sat-

urday Night, and occasionally there were outbursts of letter writing to the press by people who would begin their effusions with "I know nothing about art. but—.” The following were some of the titles appended to these letters:

“They daub and squirt”; “Art is desecrated by modernism”; "Daubing by immature children”; “A horrible bunch of junk”; "The brazenness of those daubers”; “Arrogance of Canadian Group”; “Figments of a drunkard’s dream.”

By the close of the 1920s, however, the paintings of the group had begun to find favor in eastern Canada even in the eyes of the critics. In the west the criticism continued for several years, reaching its height in Vancouver when the National Gallery sent an exhibition of our work there in 1932.

When one looks back over the history of the Wembley exhibition, and all the squabbles which followed it. perhaps the most shameful aspect of the story concerns the efforts that were made to have Eric Brown, the director of the National Gallery, dismissed. The campaign against Brown went on for years. Though it had its comical features it was not amusing to him; he was hurt and worried by it.

After various unsuccessful efiorts had been made to oust Brown, a protest, signed by one hundred and eighteen artists, was sent to the Prime Minister, the Honorable R. B. Bennett. The Toronto Star, under a big headline, “Painters Demand the Head of Art Dictator of Canada,” described him as a Mussolini. Brown was accused of favoring certain artists and discriminating against others in exhibitions held outside Canada.

One cannot say that our country has done much for art; of all our members of parliament in the last fifty years there have been no voices raised to appeal for greater assistance to the fine arts. Neither Mackenzie King nor R. B. Bennett took the slightest interest in art; indeed, in the Bennett regime, Eric Brown was afraid the National Gallery would be closed down for reasons of economy. What saved it was the smallness of the grant the gallery received. ★

A. Y. Jackson’s memories of the Group of Seven and its beginnings will be included in his autobiography A Painter’s Country to be published shortly by Clarke, Irwin.