Arthur Lismer, RCA, 1885-1969

Isles of Spruce | Arthur Lismer

Isles of Spruce | Arthur Lismer

Size: 30" X 40"

Price: SOLD

Sampson-Matthews Silkscreen Print, circa 1943

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Arthur Lismer put his stamp on Canadian art starting with his membership in the Group of Seven

Born in Sheffield, England, the son of a draper in 1885, Arthur Lismer became a landmark Canadian artist starting with his membership in the Group of Seven.

While growing up in England, Arthur Lismer served an apprenticeship in the printing business during the day and studied art at night. He later travelled to in Europe to study art and visit art galleries before returning to Sheffield to start his own business. After a few years, Arthur Lismer was recruited as an engraver to work in Canada.

Arthur Lismer reached Toronto in 1911, and soon joined The Grip Engraving Company, where fellow employees included J.E.H. MacDonald, Tom Thomson and Frank Johnston.

Arts and Letters Club

Arthur Lismer soon joined the Arts and Letters Club, a Toronto cultural hotspot. It was at the Club that he met Lawren Harris and A.Y. Jackson. The stage was now set for the exciting events which were to follow – an artistic fellowship that became the Group of Seven.

In 1912, Arthur Lismer had saved enough money to return to Sheffield and marry his fiancée Esther Mawson; they returned to Toronto.

Arthur Lismer soon became inspired by Tom Thomson’s sketching trips by canoe. Lismer did his early sketching with Tom Thomson in and around Toronto. Each artist probably helped the other. Thomson’s great feeling for the north country would help immensely Lismer’s understanding of a land he wanted to know more about. Lismer’s art schooling and travels in Europe, coupled with an exceptional analytical faculty, probably made him an invaluable critic of Tom Thomson’s early paintings.

In 1913, Lismer received an invitation to spend part of September at Dr. James MacCallum’s summer home at Go Home Bay in the Georgian Bay area. James MacCallum had become a patron of Canadian artists. It was here that Arthur Lismer experienced for the first time a spiritual awakening towards the Canadian landscape.

Tom Thomson

In May of 1914, Arthur Lismer made his first visit to Algonquin Park in the company of Tom Thomson. That autumn, Arthur Lismer was back in the Park with his wife and daughter. They joined forces with A.Y. Jackson, Fred Varley, and Tom Thomson. A photograph was taken of Thomson, Jackson, Lismer, on one side of a picnic table; Varley, Mrs. Lismer and her baby daughter on the other.

Many sketches were made that fall from which important canvases were produced. Arthur Lismer painted The Guide’s Home and A.Y. Jackson The Red Maple. When Arthur Lismer returned to Toronto he did the large canvas of The Guide’s Home, which was then exhibited in the Royal Canadian Academy show and acquired by the National Gallery.

In 1916, Arthur Lismer departed with his family to Halifax to become principal of the Victoria School of Art and Design. During his four years in Halifax, he received a commission from the Canadian War Records to paint the activities of the Canadian armed forces around Halifax. During this period, Arthur Lismer did several large canvases: The ‘Olympic’ with Returned Soldiers (48″ x 64″), Mine Sweepers, Halifax (48″ x 64″), Convoy in Bedford Basin (36″ x 102″), and Halifax Harbour – Time of War (42″ x 52″).

In 1919, Arthur Lismer moved back to Toronto with his family to take over duties of vice-principal of the Ontario College of Art. He was also elected Associate of the Royal Canadian Academy.

In 1920, Arthur Lismer joined A.Y. Jackson, Lawren Harris, J.E.H. MacDonald and James MacCallum on a trip to Algoma country.

Isles of Spruce

Arthur Lismer exhibited 16 of his works in his First Group of Seven show at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1920. In 1922, he completed Isles of Spruce (47″ x 64″), purchased by Hart House.

The sketch for Isles of Spruce was made at Sand Lake, Algoma, in 1921, and the final work in 1922. The viewer of this artwork feels not a living thing stirs under a blue sky with high floating clouds, giving a sense of isolation. A reproduction was made by Sampson-Matthews of Toronto (See blog post on the Sampson-Matthews silkscreen project). Much later, in 1970, the Canadian Post issued a stamp featuring this work to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Group of Seven.

Arthur Lismer did hundreds of sketches and drawings on his trips to Georgian Bay, Algoma, the Maritimes, and around Toronto. During these years, he continued to teach at the Ontario College of Art but, unable to implement all his teaching methods, he resigned as vice-principal of the College in 1927.

The same year, Arthur Lismer was accepted the post of educational supervisor of the Art Gallery of Toronto, where he was able to implement ideas on child and adult art education.

Advocate for Art Education

In the 1930s, Arthur Lismer travelled extensively in Canada, the U.S., France, England, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, delivery lectures about art and art education. At all these places during his free hours he invariably sketched.

In 1946, Arthur Lismer was elected full member of the Royal Canadian Academy. He became Assistant Professor of the Department of Fine Arts at McGill University in 1948.

In later years, Arthur Lismer exhibited his paintings at leading galleries across Canada.

Arthur Lismer died in 1969 at the age of 83.

A retrospective exhibition of Arthur Lismer’s work was held at the National Gallery of Canada later that year.

Arthur Lismer’s extensive and ground-breaking work is repre­sented in most Canadian public galleries, as well as corporate and private collections.

Source:  A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, volumes 1-8 by Colin S. MacDonald, and volume 9 (online only), by Anne Newlands and Judith Parker. National Gallery of Canada, Artists in Canada database.