A. Y. Jackson | The Canadian Encyclopedia


A. Y. Jackson

Alexander Young Jackson, CC, painter (born 3 October 1882 in Montréal, QC; died 5 April 1974 in Kleinburg, ON). A Companion of the Order of Canada and recipient of a medal for lifetime achievement from the Royal Canadian Academy, A.Y. Jackson was a leading member of the Group of Seven and helped to remake the visual image of Canada.
Wild Mustard, Brockville
A.Y. Jackson, 1922, oil on wood (courtesy NGC).
Canal du Loing near Episy
A.Y. Jackson, 1909, oil on canvas (courtesy NGC).
Sand Dunes at Cucq
A.Y. Jackson, 1912, oil on canvas (courtesy NGC).

Education and Early Career

Jackson’s early art training was partly on the job (he worked at various lithography firms in Montréal between 1895 and 1906 and in Chicago from 1906 to 1907) and partly at night schools, including the Conseil des arts et manufactures in Montréal (1896-99) under Edmond Dyonnet and at the Chicago Art Institute (1906-07). Anxious to become a painter rather than a commercial artist, Jackson enrolled in the Académie Julian in Paris in September 1907, under Jean-Paul Laurens. He stayed in Europe until December 1909, studying, travelling and sketching.

Soon after his return to Montréal, Jackson painted Edge of the Maple Wood (1910), a canvas that brought him in contact with his future friends in the Toronto-based Group of Seven. Fed up with advertising work and with Montréal's indifference to his painting, Jackson moved to Toronto in the fall of 1913. Soon he was sharing his studio with a shy, uncertain painter, Tom Thomson. The two quickly became firm friends, to their mutual advantage: Jackson taught Thomson aspects of technique, especially colour, while Thomson taught Jackson about the Canadian wilderness. Anxious to experience Thomson's north country, Jackson went up to Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park in February 1914. Here he not only found an excellent painting country but also an image of Canada. After a trip to the Rockies, he was back in the park that fall with Thomson, Arthur Lismer and Fred Varley, and paintedThe Red Maple, a sketch in which art-nouveau composition is balanced by bold colouring.

The Great War and the Group of Seven

In 1915, after the outbreak of First World War, Jackson enlisted in the army and was sent to Europe. He was wounded in the Battle of Sanctuary Wood in June of 1916. While recovering in the hospital in Étaples in northern France, he met Lord Beaverbrook. Soon he was appointed an artist with the Canadian War Records and was immediately required to paint a portrait, despite his lack of experience with such themes. His subsequent works were more in keeping with his preference for landscapes. From 1917 to 1919, he worked for the Canadian War Memorials as a war artist.

Back in Canada as of 1918, Jackson continued his perambulations, a tradition he maintained all his life. He spent the summer of 1919 painting in Georgian Bay, and in September joined Lawren Harris, J.E.H. MacDonald and Franz Johnston in a boxcar trip into Algoma. These and subsequent expeditions provided the material for the first Group of Seven exhibition held in Toronto in May 1920. Jackson's active participation in seven other Group exhibitions and in many contemporary shows, including the controversial British Empire Exhibition in Wembley, England in 1924, ensured that his images of a rolling, unpopulated land became indelibly imprinted on the Canadian consciousness.

All his life Jackson remained a leading proponent of the Group's land-based nationalism. Once his painting style was established it shifted only to accommodate newly explored territory. Never abandoning his interest in landscape, he painted Canada's most distinct and identifiable climates, especially favouring winter, and sought remote regions, including the Arctic, which he visited in 1927 and 1930. But he frequently returned to the gentler regions of his youth, including Québec and Georgian Bay. In Québec in 1926, he paintedBarns, a canvas that exemplifies his use of simple, curving forms and temperate colour to present a powerful, enduring image. Jackson was also one of the Group's most effective propagandists. In numerous articles and in his engaging autobiography,A Painter's Country: The Autobiography of A.Y. Jackson (1967), all written in appealingly colloquial language, Jackson gently presses home his nationalistic vision.

Other Activities

In 1933, Jackson founded the Canadian Group of Painters, which included former Group of Seven members Lawren Harris, A.J. Casson, Arthur Lismer, and Franklin Carmichael. Having taught at the Ontario College of Art (Now the Ontario College of Art and Design University) in 1925, from 1943 to 1949 he taught at the Banff School of Fine Arts. In 1954, he was commissioned by the Canadian Pacific Railway to paint a mural in one of the cars on the new transcontinental train; Jackson painted Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park in British Columbia. In 1963 he submitted a design as part of the Great Flag Debate. He spent his final years as artist-in-residence at the McMichael Gallery (now the McMichael Canadian Art Collection) in Kleinburg, Ontario, where he is buried.

The Group of Seven

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