A Vital Force: The Canadian Group of Painters

June 27 to September 14, 2014

Opening Reception: Friday, June 27 at 8 p.m.
Talk/Tour: Sunday, June 29 at 1 p.m. with curator Alicia Boutilier

The significance of the first exhibition … is that it sums up the growth and development of the liberal spirit and demonstrates what a vital force it is. — Robert Ayre, The Canadian Forum, 1933

The Canadian Group of Painters (CGP) was the first to aspire to cross-country representation of modernist artists. It lasted from 1933 to 1967, but its strength of influence lay in the first two decades of its existence. When it burst upon the scene in its founding year, the Group pronounced itself “a direct outgrowth of the Group of Seven … drawn from the whole of Canada.” Twenty years later, it proclaimed a “tremendous development” had taken place: “This does not necessarily mean that localized imagery has been abandoned by artists, but it does mean that the imagery employed has become more cosmopolitan.”

The Group’s exhibitions were varied. New forms of landscape communed with figuration, regionalism, social and urban realism and fresh abstraction. These exhibitions consistently toured the country, from Victoria to Saskatoon, Toronto to Montreal, Sackville to Charlottetown. The list of members was impressive and, in some cases, surprising. All showed works that stirred excitement, reflection and debate on the state of Canadian art and society. “Go to the gallery … and have your eyes blasted,” one critic enthused.

The CGP represents a truly formative period in Canadian art. What made it such a vital force was its engagement with modern life—in subject matter, artistic approach and social activity—against a background of the Depression, World War II, postwar reconstruction, and the Cold War. The CGP was a nexus for many artists, who were or would become members of other key artists’ groups. Outside gallery walls, they often joined forces for sketching trips and social events, arts advocacy and civic projects. Women members gained a powerful voice, consistently exhibiting their work and serving on the executive committee. The Group’s aspirations for broad representation were not always successful, yet its impact on the Canadian art world was undeniable. In the spirit of collegiality, the CGP brought together many of the country’s most recognized artists, who chose the biennial exhibitions to showcase powerful works of art for a national audience.  A Vital Force is the first major exhibition to focus on the Canadian Group of Painters by bringing together some 40 pertinent works, made between 1933 to 1953, from public and private collections across Canada. The exhibition is curated by Alicia Boutilier.