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Defiant Spirits

The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven

by Ross King

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canadian, modern (late 19th century to 1945)
list price: $19.95
also available: Hardcover Paperback
category: Art
published: 2010
publisher: Douglas & McIntyre
  • Short-listed, CAA Lela Common Awards for Canadian History
  • Winner, Heritage Toronto Awards
  • Short-listed, Writers' Trust of Canada Non-Fiction Prize
  • Short-listed, Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction
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"An essential addition to any library of Canadian art history." -- National Post

A Globe and Mail Top 100 Book for 2010 and Shortlisted for the 2011 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction

"Ross King's collective look at the Group of Seven not only paints vivid portraits of the individual artists, but it reaffirms their place in Canadian cultural history and offers a clearer understanding of what it was like to persist in artistic activity." -- Globe and Mail

Beginning in 1912, Defiant Spirits traces the artistic development of Tom Thomson and the future members of the Group of Seven, Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A. Y. Jackson, Franz Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J. E. H. MacDonald, and Frederick Varley, over a dozen years in Canadian history. Working in an eclectic and sometimes controversial blend of modernist styles, they produced what an English critic celebrated in the 1920s as the most vital group of paintings" of the 20th century. Inspired by Cezanne, Van Gogh and other modernist artists, they tried to interpret the Ontario landscape in light of the strategies of the international avant-garde. Based after 1914 in the purpose-built Studio Building for Canadian Art, the young artists embarked on what Lawren Harris called "an all-engrossing adventure": travelling north into the Canadian Shield and forging a style of painting appropriate to what they regarded as the unique features of Canada's northern landscape.

Rigorously researched and drawn from archival documents and letters, Defiant Spirits constitutes a "group biography," reconstructing the men's aspirations, frustrations and achievements. It details not only the lives of Tom Thomson and the members of the Group of Seven but also the political and social history of Canada during a time when art exhibitions were venues for debates about Canadian national identity and cultural worth.

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About the Author

Ross King

Ross King, born in Estevan, Saskatchewan, is the Canadian author of three books on Italian history and art: Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, Machiavelli: Philosopher of Power and Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture, which won the 2001 Book Sense Book of the Year Award for Adult Nonfiction. His study of French Impressionism, The Judgment of Paris, won the Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction in Canada. He lives in England, near Oxford.
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