Art Talk: Embracing Canada

It is equally true, I should add, that as some countries have too much history, we have too much geography. ― W. L. Mackenzie King

When Prime Minister Mackenzie King was giving his geography lecture in the House of Commons way back in 1936, it was generally believed that he was referring to Canada’s youth (a mere 69 years at the time) in comparison to our vast size (second in the world only to Russia). In my opinion, based on my travels, his assessment was bang on. Just take a look around.

Which is what Canada’s landscape artists have a propensity for doing.

Which is why I had Mackenzie King’s statement running through my mind like an earworm when I went to see the Vancouver Art Gallery’s exhibition Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven. The exhibition’s position is that Canada’s natural world and our relationship to it has often been a major subject for Canadian artists, particularly during the hundred years that bracketed Confederation.

Lawren Harris

I finally got around to seeing this exhibition during the Christmas holidays. It’s a good exhibition; I was impressed with its depth and scale, and am intrigued by who could own such a collection. (Most of the pieces were loaned to the gallery specifically for the show and the lender wished to remain anonymous.)

Emily Carr

I’ve written before that, even though Canada has a great tradition of landscape painting, most of us don’t get much beyond the Group of Seven when asked to name a Canadian landscape artist. So here’s a tip for my Vancouver readers: if your New Year’s resolution is to increase the amount of CanCon in your cultural life, get yourself down to the Vancouver Art Gallery before January 24 (the last day of the exhibition). You will learn something about the many (other) landscape artists who have lived and worked in this country of ours that has too much geography.

If only for that reason alone, the exhibition is worth the price of admission.

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