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THOMSON, Thomas (Tom) John (1877-1917)
Recent auction results 20-11-07 Winter Thaw 5 x 7 $1,361,902 USD 27-05-08 View From A Height 8.4 x 10.4 $1,123,673 USD 22-05-08 Tamarack Swamp (sketch #5) 8.5 x 10.5 $1,070,165 USD
Thomson was largely self-taught. He was employed as a graphic designer with Toronto's Grip Ltd., an experience which honed his draughtsmanship. Although he began painting and drawing at an early age, it was only in 1912, when Thomson was well into his thirties, that he began to paint seriously.
His first trips to Algonquin Park inspired him to follow the lead of fellow artists in producing oil sketches of natural scenes on small, rectangular panels for easy portability while travelling. Between 1912 and his death in 1917, Thomson produced hundreds of these small sketches, many of which are now considered works in their own right, and are housed in such galleries as the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto and the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.
Many of Thomson's major paintings, including Northern River, The Jack Pine, and The West Wind, began as sketches before being expanded into large oil paintings at Thomson's "studio"—an old utility shack with a wood-burning stove on the grounds of the Studio Building, an artist's enclave in Rosedale, Toronto. Although Thomson sold few of these paintings during his lifetime, they formed the basis of posthumous exhibitions, including one at Wembley in London, that eventually brought international attention to his work.
Thomson peaked creatively between 1914 and 1917. He was aided by the patronage of Toronto physician James MacCallum, who enabled Thomson's transition from graphic designer to professional painter. Although the Group of Seven was not founded until after Thomson's death, his work is sympathetic to that of group members A. Y. Jackson, Frederick Varley, and Arthur Lismer. These artists shared an appreciation for rugged, unkempt natural scenery, and all used broad brush strokes and a liberal application of paint to capture the stark beauty and vibrant colour of the Ontario landscape.
Thomson's art bears some stylistic resemblance to the work of European post-impressionists such as Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne, whose work he may have known from books or visits to art galleries. Other key influences were the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, styles with which he would have been familiar from his work in the graphic arts.
For artist and Thomson biographer Harold Town, the brevity of Thomson's career hinted at an artistic evolution never fully realized. He cites the oil painting Unfinished Sketch as "the first completely abstract work in Canadian art," a painting that, whether or not it was intended as a purely non-objective work, presages the innovations of Abstract expressionism.