Mrs. Minnie Thomson Henry (sister of the artist), Saskatoon
George McLaren Thomson (brother of the artist), Brantford
Estate of George McLaren Thomson, Branford
Ian M. Thomson (son of George McLaren Thomson), Toronto
Private Collection, Ontario (acquired directly from Ian M. Thomson)
Harold Town and David P. Silcox, Tom Thomson: The Silence and the Storm, Toronto, 1977, page 191, reproduced in colour.
Joan Murray, Tom Thomson: The Last Spring, Toronto, Oxford, 1994, page 51, Plate 27, reproduced.
Nutana Collegiate Institute, Saskatoon, 11-12 Nov., 1927 (exhibition list).
In 1917, Tom Thomson, age thirty-nine, went to paint in Algonquin Park in what was to be the last spring of his life. He arrived in the Park early in April when the snow was still on the ground and sojourned happily there that season and part of the summer, engaging in two of his favourite activities: trout fishing and oil painting – sometimes doing both on the same outing. On July 16, his body was recovered from Canoe Lake.
One of the twentieth-century’s masters of oil painting in the sketch format, Thomson devised innovative methods to express his response to an environment he knew and loved. Viewing Algonquin Park early in the year, he was impressed by the colour he found in the snow and the quality of the light.
Thomson painted Winter Thaw on one of his excursions, probably overlooking Canoe Lake. The distinctive landscape with its northern trees informed his palette of colours (white, cream, black, browns, blues, earthy green, pink). Using abbreviations of form, he deftly captured the essential elements of the view – snow, ice, trees, distant hills, overcast sky – in a descriptive manner. Though his handling is bold, it also has a fluid delicacy, as we can see from his handling of the trees and bushes which poke up through the composition like so many exclamation marks.
This sketch demonstrates beautifully Thomson’s characteristically delicate touch. Here, as in other works, he created a lively interplay of panel and pigment by leaving some passages free of paint, thereby lending the work vibrancy and immediacy.
The sketch belonged to one of Thomson’s sisters, Minnie Henry of Saskatoon, and was probably gifted to her from the Thomson estate by her father, John Thomson, who gave her and her sister Louise each ten works. She in turn gave the sketch to George M. Thomson, in Brantford, in 1956. He gave it to his son Ian Thomson in 1972. Since then, it has been in the home of a private collector.
In this tiny gem, Tom Thomson has managed to present a sparing, but spacious summation of the great Canadian north.
Painted spring, 1917.
This work will be included in Joan Murray’s forthcoming catalogue raisonne of the artist’s work.