Art historian David Silcox's The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson looks and reads like a dream project, and indeed, Silcox and Firefly Books first envisioned the volume while preparing the 25th anniversary edition of Silcox's own Tom Thomson: The Silence and the Storm. As managing director of Sotheby's Canada, Silcox has taken full advantage of his access to little-known works in private and small regional collections to ensure that this volume is packed with plates that won't be found in other Group of Seven overviews. The book opens with a selection of the Group's greatest hits, but Silcox quickly moves on to introduce works in such genres not usually associated with the Group as the still life, portraiture, and cityscape. While the Group's collective style helped define "The Idea of North," which dominated Canada's national identity through the 20th century, Silcox weighs in on the current round of Group revisionism by casting light on the impact of the urban experience on the artists. "Toronto, not the wilderness, was the place in which the Group of Seven spent most of their time together," he observes in his lucid text prefacing the nearly 400 spectacular colour reproductions that form the heart and soul of the book.
Cumulatively the Group of Seven embodied a distinctive style, but Silcox deftly demonstrates the extent to which founding members (Lawren Harris, J.E.H. MacDonald, A.Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer, F.H. Varley, Frank Carmichael, and Frank Johnston) and later additions (A.J. Casson, Edwin Holgate and LeMoine Fitzgerald) and Group precursor Tom Thomson each pursued a deeply personal view of their surroundings. In debunking some common Group myths, Silcox reveals the depths of individual members. "Harris, the most progressive and open-minded of the Group, was not quite as provincial and ignorant of modern movements as might appear," he writes. "He formed a connection to the influential Societé Anonyme in New York, and in 1927 arranged for its founder, Katherine Drier, to lecture in Toronto on modern art. Harris was a constant explorer, like Kandinsky and Cézanne, and sought out new ideas and new forms of expression through his long life." Smart, compelling, and loaded with rare reproductions, The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson makes an essential addition to the Group's canon. --Deirdre Hanna [via]