Scottish artist Leo du Feu responds to Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven

In summer 2010 I spent six weeks travelling across Canada thanks to an art travel scholarship awarded to me by the Royal Over-Seas League.

The inspiration for my trip was the Canadian Group of Seven. I had written about this diverse group of early 1900’s painters in my graduate year dissertation at Edinburgh College of Art. The Group were artist-explorers: canoeing and hiking through remote stretches of their vast and largely untamed country, sketching and painting as they went.

I too am a painter, and like the Group of Seven, and their close associate Tom Thomson, landscape and nature are what I love. I wanted to travel to Canada to see for real paintings that I’d long admired in books. It was an absolute treat to spend two full days in the McMichael Collection and two more in the Art Gallery of Ontario, both of which house great numbers of Group of Seven works and both of which have lent substantially to the current exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London.

As well as seeing their work, I hoped to compare the landscapes that the Group painted to those of my home country. I found many differences – never in Scotland have I had to sing whilst walking in the woods to ensure that no bears  stumble across my path… nor have I been able to kneel less than fifty metres from a bald eagle, sketching it for half an hour or more whilst it stared back through its beautiful piercing eyes. In terms of landscape however I found many similarities – parts of Canada reminded me a lot of Scotland, except that mountains towered five times taller and forests stretched a hundred times further.

"The decision to arrange the works roughly geographically is a success, helping give some idea of the hugeness of Canada"

Imagine my delight upon getting home to discover that a gallery in London was soon to hold a major exhibition of the Group of Seven, the first time most of these paintings have been shown in Britain since the 1920’s. I’ve travelled down to London twice to see the exhibition and I cannot praise it highly enough. The decision to arrange the works roughly geographically is a success, helping give some idea of the hugeness of Canada – from the rolling farmlands of Quebec to the massive crags and peaks of the Rocky Mountains. From the woods and lakes of Ontario to a final room that features only the monumental Arctic glacier and mountain paintings of Lawren Harris.

My favourite works are the numerous oil sketches on small cedarwood panels, completed in situ, out in the landscape, in all weathers. They are exciting and fresh and free and often even more impressive than the large finished canvases that hang alongside them. In Canada you’d be hard pushed to find someone who didn’t know these paintings, but here in the UK you’d be hard pushed to find a dozen people who do. Now at last we in Britain have a chance to see these wonderful works by Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. I strongly recommend that both artists and non-artists alike take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by making the trip to Dulwich before the exhibition ends on 8 Janurary 2012. Like me, I expect you’ll leave feeling thoroughly inspired.

About Leo Du Feu

Born in Edinburgh in 1984, Leo has lived most of his life in nearby Linlithgow. Since graduating from Edinburgh College of Art in 2006 Leo has painted full time, helped initially by a PSYBT business start-up grant.

Leo’s inspiration is the natural world. He takes every opportunity to explore the landscapes of Scotland and the rest of Britain, walking, cycling, sketching and taking photos, using material gathered to complete paintings in the studio.

His limited edition book, Sketches from Canada is available for £15 from either the Dulwich Picture Gallery shop or through his website where you can also see many examples of his work –

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One Comment

  1. Anna Sayburn 20 Dec 2011

    These paintings were completely new to me. I saw the exhibition at the weekend and loved it – a breath of mountain-fresh air.


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