The Best of the Group of Seven
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography
Virgil Hammock is head of the Canadian section of the International
Association of Art Critics and chair of the Department of Fine Arts at
Mount Allison University.
I am normally alarmed by any art book that gives itself the title, “The Best of...;” unfortunately, this slim book proves to be no exception to my fears. It certainly does not give us “The Best of the Group of Seven,” but rather, the subjective choice of what author Joan Murray thinks is their best work. I, and many other teachers of Canadian art history, would certainly agree with many of her choices; but, again, that proves little except that, for better or for worse, these are Canadian paintings that have become icons.
Joan Murray’s text is, as usual, of high quality. Murray, who is the director of the Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa, is a first-rate scholar who for many years has championed the cause of Canadian art. In addition, this book contains an excellent essay by Lawren Harris on the founding of the Group. However, the quality of the reproductions leaves a lot to be desired and is not what it should be for a small, 95-page book that costs twenty dollars. Murray has included Tom Thomson, A.J. Casson, Edwin Holgate, and L.L. FitzGerald in the Group along with the original Seven, which is as it should be. Thomson, of course, died before the Group was officially formed, but he certainly would have been a member of what would have then been the Group of Eight. The other three artists became members after the Group was formed in 1920 and prior to the time that it was disbanded and a new larger group, The Canadian Group of Painters, was founded in its place. Murray does attempt to reevaluate the members of the Group and is honest in placing them within Canadian art history. She neither makes them armour-clad heroes nor does she try to debunk totally the myth of the Group; for this reason alone, she should be praised.
What I would like to see is this book brought out in a lower-priced paperback and retitled somewhere along the lines of: “The Work of the Group of Seven: A Personal Choice by Joan Murray.”