Tom Thomson

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Thomas John Thomson was a celebrated early twentieth century Canadian artist. He is known for being a major influence on the next generation of artists who became popular as The Group of Seven. It is has been a topic of discussion for quite some time; the mysterious death of the artist.

Born on August 5, 1877, in Claremont, Ontario, Thomson was raised in Leith, Ontario, Canada by his parents John and Margaret Thomson. He joined an apprenticeship to iron foundry owner William Kennedy. However, he was shortly after relieved of his work for being tardy. He tried to have himself drafted in Army during Second Boer War but due to a medical condition he was refused. He met the same fate again as he tried to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the World War I. Instead, he took up fire ranger’s position in Algonquin Park. After doing a few odd jobs, he decided to attend a business college in Chatham, Ontario. Once again, Thomson couldn’t carry on with his studies and dropped out in his second semester to meet his brother in Seattle, who operated a business school there.

Upon his return from the USA to Canada, Thomson joined a photo-engraving firm of Legg Brothers. Afterwards, he came to work for an artistic design firm called Grip Ltd. as a graphic designer, which he left in the fall of 1912. His next stop was a Toronto based art firm, Rous & Mann. The same year, he began to work with the artists who would form The Group of Seven, posthumously. After leaving Rous & Mann, Thomson decided to take up art as a fulltime occupation. His artwork was first exhibited in 1913, at the Ontario Society of Artists and he became the member of the Society shortly after.

Thomson was a self-made artist who taught himself the art of painting and designing. During his time at several firms he practiced and polished his skills as a graphic designer and draftsman. Even though, he painted and drew as a child but it was not until he was in his thirties that he produced some serious paintings. Inspired by fellow artist he prepared oil sketches of natural scenes on small panels to carry those around easily. In the span of five years, he industriously produced hundreds of sketches. Those are now being considered a work of art as the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa and the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto preserved his works.

The last four years of his life are marked as the years of Thomas’ heightened creativity. James MacCallum, a physician became his devoted patron, who accelerated his professional career as a painter. It is noted that his artwork was largely influenced by the work of European post-impressionists. He was inspired by the works of Paul Cézanne and Vincent van Gogh, whose work he studied thoroughly at museums and in books. Moreover, the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts movements made quite an impression on him. Some of his major works include, The Jack Pine, The West Wind, April in Algonquin Park, Forest Undergrowth and Northern River. His usage of different colour pigments was extraordinary. His painting Unfinished was deemed as the first original abstract painting in Canadian art.

Thomson’s death was labeled mysterious because he went missing on July 8, 1917, while he was on a canoeing trip on Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park. Eight days later his body was retrieved from the lake.

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