Canadian Painting in the Thirties

New Developments in the Canadian Group of Painters

By the end of the 1930s direction of the Canadian Group of Painters was transferred to the younger artists, whose work branched out in varying directions.

Carl Schaefer explored the topography and character of his rural birthplace near Hanover, Ontario, first in oil and from 1937 in watercolour, attracted by the medium's immediacy and low cost. The Depression affected Schaefer greatly and his paintings of 1939 and 1940, in dark greens and blacks, with sharp, angular projections, show an increasing sentiment of violence and death.

Charles Comfort grew up in Winnipeg and moved to Toronto in 1925. A landscape and figure painter, his large portraits in oil and watercolour demonstrate his strength in the expressive characterization of his sitters. One of the few Canadian artists to receive mural commissions, his murals for the Toronto Stock Exchange combine images of the Exchange's principal industries in dynamic vertical panels.

A self-taught artist, Bertram Brooker painted abstracts, in the late 1920s, that combined concepts of spiritual awakening and natural phenomena with representational elements. Visiting Winnipeg in the summer of 1929, he met LeMoine FitzGerald and, as a result, his painting took a sudden turn away from abstraction to include still lifes and figures.

Born in Saint Petersburg, Paraskeva Plistik met the Canadian Philip Clark in Paris, and in June 1931 they were married and moved to Toronto. Strongly influenced by her Russian experiences during and after the Revolution, Clark was one of the few Canadian artists to express her political engagement in paintings though she shared with other artists a concern for the formal qualities of painting in still lifes and landscapes.

Pegi Nicol studied in Montreal and moved to Toronto in the fall of 1934, becoming an active and popular member of the art community. Her concern for humanity and fascination with groups persisted throughout her career. In her watercolours of Toronto street scenes, Nicol achieved the most direct expression of her love of life.

In 1936 Nicol married Norman MacLeod and moved to New York. Overwhelmed by the New York art scene, and feeling confined by her marriage and suburban life, she painted endless studies of her young daughter in watercolour and oil.

Exhibiting outlets were almost non-existent in the Maritimes during the early thirties and public taste was conservative, but a small group of Saint John artists realized an important body of work that marked the decade.

Having studied in Boston and Europe, Jack Humphrey was concerned with the more plastic qualities of form in still lifes painted in earthy, almost sombre, colours. During the mid-thirties he worked mostly in watercolour, painting the houses and skyline of Saint John, and later, experimenting with new techniques in portraits of children.

Miller Brittain expressed his social commitment in drawings and paintings that documented and satirized the urban scene. He wrote, "I have no patience with those individuals who think of pictures merely as embellishments to a decorative scheme. A picture ought to emerge from the midst of life and be in no sense divorced from it. And I think artists should be rooted in their native hearth. And they will be so if their life and work are one and the same."