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CAROL YN MAC HARDY An Inquiry into the Success of Tom Thomson's The West Wind Landscapes are culture before they are nature; constructs of the imagination projected onto wood and water and rock ... But it should also be acknowledged that once a certain idea of landscape, a myth, a vision, establishes itself in an actual place, it has a peculiar way of muddling categories, of making metaphors more real than their referents; of becoming, in fact, part of the scenery. (Schama, 61) INTRODUCTION Tom Thomson's The West Wind (figure I), painted in 1916-17, is one of the most enduring images in the history of Canadian landscape painting, its position secured through frequent reproduction and a growing body of literature devoted to it(see Bordo; Teitelbaum; Linsley). Both The West Wind and The Jack Pine (figure 2), considered by many to be its companion piece, were among the last large canvases Thomson did before he drowned in Algonquin Park in July of 1917 at the age of thirty-nine. The task of documenting Thomson's work and assessing the significance of his legacy was begun soon after his death by his friends and colleagues, including those who went on to form the Group,of Seven in 1920. During the 192051 The West Wind was frequently singled out by writers who were engaged with the powerful cultural and nationalist arguments of the day. Both the painting itself and the motif on which it is based - a lone pine seen against the waters and distant hills of a northern Ontario lake - were appropriated into the Group of Seven's 'cult of the patriotic landscape,'1 which sought to link national cultural identity to a specific topography. The most succinct and eloquent statement of the seminal role assigned to The West Wind during this period of cultural nationalism came from Arthur Lismer, who in 1934 called it Ithe spirit ofCanada made manifest in a picture' (Lismer, lThe West Wind,' 163). While the twinning of thelone tree with the English Canadian nationalist rhetoric of the 19205 no doubt served to advance the fame of The West I would like to thank David Carnegie, Pauline Neale, and Eileen Truscott for their comments on an earlier draft of this paper. 1 Schama, 63. For a broad discussion of the Group's philosophy, see Davis. UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 68, NUMBER 3, SUMMER 1999 TOM THOMSON'S THE WEST WIND 769 1. Tom Thorru;on The West Wind 1916-17 oil on canvas 120.7cm x 137.2cm. Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. Gift of the Canadian Club of Toronto, 1926. Wind, it was by no means the only reason for the painting's increasingly enthusiastic reception at this time. This paper will examine otherinflu~nces which helped to shape The West Wind's reputation between 1917, when it was painted, and 1934 when Lismer offered it as a metaphor for the nation. I will argue that in addition to the nationalist discourse of the 19205, the cultural and literary milieu which both informed and was informed by The West Wind was extremely significant, as was the development of a biography of Thomson and the emergence of a critique of his work. The interplay of these various factors enriched The West Wind's reputation during the 19205 and ensured its success as one of Thomson's best-known paintings. I The history of The West Wind can be swnmarized fairly briefly. It was painted in Thomson's Toronto studio during the winter of 1916-17, based I·'·" .' . l .......,.."' .....- r. I ~ ." P.,- _ .... I II • ~L_' t l - -. r .. , -, 770 CAROLYN MAC HARDY ~ _ . " "I .. ':---1 . ...-~ I 2. Tom Thomson The Jack Fine 1916-17 oil on canvas 127.6cm x 139.7cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Purchased 1918. on a sketch done in Algonquin Park some time earlier. After Thomson's unexpected death in a canoeing accident in the park during July of 1917, The West Wind remained one of a number of canvases stored in his Toronto studio. It was reported to be 'still wet on his easel' at the time of his death, and consequently, it became the legendary 'last canvas...


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