Unsolved Mysteries

The Artist and Advocate

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A.Y. Jackson

A serious art movement needs credible leaders, and the Group of Seven had several. J.E.H. MacDonald was the Group’s mentor, Lawren Harris its visionary. In 1913, it recruited another: Montreal artist A.Y. Jackson. He is generally credited with having more talent, more complete training, and more experience of the world than any of the others.

Jackson made his mark without favours. He paid for art classes and travel to Paris himself, and, by challenging the establishment, he earned a reputation as a tenacious advocate for modernism, art, artists, and the importance of a unique national aesthetic identity.

A creative leader, he was among the first to fuse the Impressionist mode and technique with Canadian landscape subjects. His painting The Edge of the Maplewood, 1910, which is similar to Early Spring, Emileville, Quebec shown here, piqued MacDonald’s interest at an Ontario Society of Artists exhibition in 1911. Invited to Toronto in 1913 by Lawren Harris, Jackson immediately began to advance the Group project in print and paint.

Working in a studio at the corner of Yonge and Bloor streets, Jackson stunned colleagues with the ground-breaking modern canvas Terre Sauvage, which came to define the emerging Group’s style. In 1919, following the first of the famed boxcar trips north along the Algoma Central Railway, Jackson again redefined the Group’s outlook with First Snow, Algoma. By 1920, when the Group formally organized, Jackson had been an official war artist and gained independent status in Canada’s artistic community.

Where MacDonald lent patient wisdom and Harris offered means and vision, Jackson provided muscle — the plain-spoken and respected voice within the contemporary art establishment who advanced and defended the Group project.

First Snow Algoma, c.1919-1920
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A.Y. Jackson (1882-1974)
First Snow Algoma c.1919-1920
oil on canvas, 107.1 x 127.7 cm
In Memory of Gertrude Wells Hilborn
McMichael Canadian Art Collection
1966.7

A.Y. Jackson, 1957
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A.Y. Jackson 1957
Photo by Robert McMichael Studios
Gift of the Founders, Robert & Signe McMichael
McMichael Canadian Art Collection Archives

Early Spring, Emileville, Quebec, 1913
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A.Y. Jackson (1882-1974)
Early Spring, Emileville, Quebec 1913
oil on canvas, 63.5 x 82.5 cm
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Max Stern, Dominion Gallery, Montreal
McMichael Canadian Art Collection
1978.23

Private A.Y. Jackson, c.1915
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Private A.Y. Jackson c.1915
60th Battalion, enlisted June 1915
McMichael Canadian Art Collection Archives

A.Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston and Lawren Harris on the Algoma boxcar
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A.Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston and Lawren Harris on the Algoma boxcar
McMichael Canadian Art Collection Archives

A.Y. Jackson at the McMichael Gallery, c.1960s
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A.Y. Jackson at the McMichael Gallery c.1960s
McMichael Canadian Art Collection Archives