Living in the Landscape
May 1–December 6, 2008
University of Toronto Art Centre
Living in the Landscape presents a small selection of Canadian paintings from the first half of the twentieth century. With one exception they offer images of rural and small-town Canada. They depict the habitations that generations of Canadians have created, or, at least, the marks that Canadians have left on their surrounding terrain through toil and cultivation.
Despite an emphasis on Ontario (King, Palgrave, Thornhill, and Toronto) the works encompass sites in Nova Scotia, Quebec and the prairies, and they evince a range of feeling from the luxurious warmth of C. W. Jefferys’ Wheat Stacks on the Prairie (1910), to the quiet pastoral beauty of J.E.H. MacDonald’s Farm Lane Thornhill (1931), to the relative gloom of two works by Lawren Harris. In Harris’ Top of the Hill, Spadina Avenue (c. 1909-10) and Ontario Hill Town (1926), solitary houses speak of isolation and dislocation, rather than community.
Yet, in all the paintings there is a pervasive balance, an implication that the human beings and activities depicted are contained within the environment, rather than dominating, or being overwhelmed by it. Here is no epic struggle, but a sense of the quiet moments of life lived within the landscape, on a small and, at least on the surface, uneventful, scale. A sense of normalcy pervades.
We gratefully acknowledge the project support of Manulife Financial.
Title Image: Henri Masson, Boy in Boat, not dated. Oil on canvas. 55 x 65 cm.