Group of Seven paintings of Alberta come to Red Deer

Red Deer museum exhibit shows how Eastern artists saw the West and influenced Alberta painters

Paintings of the West by Canada’s iconic Group of Seven artists are going up in Red Deer.

Shaping the Image of Alberta, a new exhibit at the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery, presents a rare local opportunity to see a significant number of Group of Seven paintings. “It’s the first show in which there are so many major works,” said the museum’s executive director, Lorna Johnson.

It’s also the first time these paintings of rolling prairie (A. Y. Jackson), or Rocky Mountains (by Lawren Harris, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, and J.E.H. MacDonald), are being shown alongside early 20th-century works by Western artists the Group of Seven might have influenced.

Landscapes by Peter and Catharine Whyte, H.G. Glyde, W. L. Stevenson, Annora Brown, Illingworth Kerr, and Euphemia McNaught are also part of the exhibit of 40 paintings, (including 15 by the Group of Seven).

The show is a huge undertaking for the Red Deer museum, since the art is on loan from 14 different sources, including the Art Gallery of Alberta, Glenbow Museum, Lethbridge College, Alberta Foundation for the Arts and private collections, said guest curator Mary-Beth Laviolette.

“The whole idea is to tell a story” she added — about how the Eastern Canadian artists saw the West.

While most painters flocked to Banff for the mountain scenery (Harris became known for his stylized peaks), Jackson saw the Prairies as being worthy of his painterly interest. Laviolette said, “He loved the rolling Prairies as they were very much a part of his style” — as shown in Alberta Foothills and other works.

Since Jackson didn’t drive, friends such as Glyde would chauffeur him around to different painting spots, said Laviolette. She believes the Montreal native became influenced by Glyde’s appreciation of our flatter landscape. Jackson likened grain elevators to cathedrals and rendered them with a gravity in Elevators at Night.

The impact of Jackson’s dynamic style can be seen in Brown’s Windy Day at Lee Lake, in which a central tree is shown bent sideways by air movement.

Laviolette noted that most Group of Seven artists considered the Prairie landscape uninteresting and “unpaintable,” but Kerr decided to prove them wrong. ‘Boring’ never comes to mind while viewing Kerr’s depictions of sky and earth.

The show continues to March 12. An opening reception will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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