A. Y. Jackson

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A. Y. Jackson

Jackson at work in the Studio Building, Toronto, 1944
Alexander Young Jackson

(1882-10-03)October 3, 1882
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
DiedApril 5, 1974(1974-04-05) (aged 91)
Kleinburg, Ontario, Canada
EducationMonument-National, Art Institute of Chicago, Académie Julian
Known forPainter
MovementGroup of Seven

Alexander Young Jackson CC CMG RCA LL. D. (October 3, 1882 – April 5, 1974) was a Canadian painter and a founding member of the Group of Seven. Jackson made a significant contribution to the development of art in Canada, and was instrumental in bringing together the artists of Montreal and Toronto.[1] In addition to his work with the Group of Seven, his long career included serving as a war artist during World War I (1917–19) and teaching at the Banff School of Fine Arts, from 1943 to 1949. In his later years he was artist-in-residence at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario.[2]

Early life and training[edit]

Jackson was born in Montreal, the son of Eliza Georgina (Young) and Henry Allen Jackson.[3] As a young boy, Jackson worked as an office boy for a lithograph company, after his father abandoned his family of six children. It was at this company that Jackson began his art training. In the evenings, he took classes at the Art Association of Montreal (1902).[4]

In 1905, Jackson worked his way to Europe on a cattle boat, returning by the same means and travelling on to Chicago. In Chicago, he joined a commercial art firm and took courses at the Chicago Art Institute.[4] He saved his earnings and, by 1907, was able to visit France to study Impressionism.[5] In France, Jackson decided to become a professional painter, studying at the Académie Julian in Paris [1]with J. P. Laurens. Some of his most important artistic development was at the Étaples art colony, which he first visited in 1908 with his New Zealand friend Eric Spencer Macky.[4]: 30  Jackson painted his Paysage Embrumé then and, to his surprise, it was accepted by the Paris Salon.[4]: 30  Returning in 1912, he stayed with the Australian Arthur Baker-Clack (1877–1955). From this period date the Impressionist Sand dunes at Cucq[6] and Autumn in Picardy, in both of which he used brushstrokes of high-keyed colour.[7] Autumn in Picardy was bought by the National Gallery of Canada in 1913.

Professional career[edit]

Red Maple (1914), by A. Y. Jackson

When Jackson returned to Canada, he settled in Sweetsburg, Quebec, where he began painting works such as the Impressionistic Edge of the Maple Wood. He held his first exhibition at the Art Association of Montreal with Randolph Hewton in 1913. Unable to make ends meet and discouraged by the Canadian art scene, he considered moving to the United States. However, he received a letter from J. E. H. MacDonald which changed his mind. MacDonald inquired about the Edge of the Maple Wood, which he had seen at a Toronto art show, informing Jackson that Toronto artist Lawren Harris wanted to purchase the painting if he still owned it.[8]

After the purchase, Jackson struck up a correspondence with the two Toronto artists, often debating on topics related to Canadian art. Jackson soon began visiting Toronto. Dr. James MacCallum convinced Jackson to relocate to Toronto by offering to buy enough of his paintings for one year to guarantee him a living income.[9]: 24  He moved into the Studio Building which was financed by Lawren Harris and Dr. James MacCallum. Harris, overseeing construction of the building, was too busy to concentrate on his own artistic endeavours and loaned his own studio space, over the Commerce Bank branch at the northwest corner of Yonge and Bloor streets, to the newly arrived Montrealer, A. Y. Jackson. The spot is now occupied by the 34-storey 2 Bloor West.

Jackson was a welcome addition to the Toronto art scene, having traveled in Europe and bringing with him a respected – though as yet not particularly successful – talent. The canvas taking shape while he waited to move into the Studio Building, Terre Sauvage, became one of his most famous. In January 1914 the Studio Building was ready for occupation. Tom Thomson was another of the first residents of the building and shared a studio with Jackson for a year.[9]: 24 [10] Like the other Group of Seven painters, Jackson embraced landscape themes and sought to develop a bold style. An avid outdoorsman, Jackson became good friends with Tom Thomson, and the duo often fished and sketched together, beginning with a trip to Algonquin Park in fall 1914.[9]: 25  Inspired by Thomson, Jackson and the other painters who would one day be known as the Group of Seven undertook trips to Algonquin Park, Georgian Bay, Algoma and the North Shore.[11]

With the outbreak of World War I, Jackson enlisted in the Canadian Army's 60th battalion in 1915. Soon after he reached the front he was wounded at the Battle of Sanctuary Wood in June 1916 and found himself once more at Étaples in the hospital there.[12] While recovering from his injuries, he came to the attention of Lord Beaverbrook.[13]: 46  He was then transferred to the Canadian War Records branch as an artist. Here, Jackson would create important pictures of events connected with the war.[14][15] He later worked for the Canadian War Memorials as an official war artist from 1917 to 1919.[16] Jackson produced forty-five artworks for the organization, including the powerful A Copse, Evening (1918)--a grim depiction of the catastrophic effects of the First World War on the Belgian landscape.[17] A large number of his war paintings are in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.[18]

On his return from WWI, Jackson again took up residence at the Studio Building. He removed Tom Thomson's easel, made by Thomson's own hand, from his studio and used it for all the subsequent pictures he produced in the Studio Building. Shortly after he returned from wintering on Georgian Bay, he learned that in his absence he had been included in an informal group of Studio Building artists, exhibiting for the first time, called the Group of Seven.[10]

The Beaver Hall Group was formed in Montreal in May 1920 with A. Y. Jackson as president. In his opening speech, Jackson emphasized the right of the artist to paint what they feel "with utter disregard for what has hitherto been considered requisite to the acceptance of the work at the recognized art exhibitions in Canadian centres. "Schools and 'isms' do not trouble us", he maintained, "individual expression is our chief concern".[19] He identified its goals as being those of the Group of Seven, and over the years Jackson maintained the contact between Toronto and Montreal, supporting and stimulating the Montreal artists through regular visits, painting with artists such as Albert H. Robinson and others at various scenic locations, and correspondence. He kept them informed of events in Toronto and arranged for their works to be included in the Group of Seven exhibitions.[20] It is through this kind of contact that he made lifelong friends of Beaver Hall artists Anne Savage, Sarah Robertson and Kathleen Morris.[19]

Jackson enjoyed painting landscapes from his native Quebec and did so for many years. Beginning in late February 1921, and for more than two decades, A.Y. Jackson explored the many topographies and villages of the Lower Saint Lawrence. He first visited Baie-Saint-Paul on the north shore in 1923.[21] In his autobiography, he wrote:

at first, in my painting, I was interested in the old farm houses, in the barns and the trees. Later it was snow that captured my attention; the sun and the wind continually changed its colours and texture.[22]

In 1932, Jackson depicted the Falconbridge smelter near Sudbury, in his painting Smoke Fantasy. He then began efforts at government lobbying, pleading in a letter to the minister of Lands and Forests William Finlayson to preserve from logging what became Killarney Provincial Park and Trout Lake. The latter was renamed O.S.A. Lake in honour of the Ontario Society of Artists which had taken it into trust. Jackson's efforts were rewarded with the naming of a lake after him on his 90th birthday.[23]

In 1938, Jackson visited the mine-site of the isolated Radium mine at Port Radium, Northwest Territories, in 1938.[24] Jackson was a friend of prospector Gilbert LaBine, then the mine manager, and flew to the site with him, where he painted Radium Mine.[25]

During the Second World War, Jackson became one of the central figures in the development of the Canadian War Art Program in 1943. Working with the National Gallery of Canada, he played a pivotal role in organizing the largest public art project in Canadian history: the Sampson-Matthews silkscreen print program in 1942.[26]

Jackson left the Studio Building in 1955 with Lawren Harris mourning, in a letter from Vancouver, "Your moving from the Studio Building marks the end of an era, the one era of creative art that has the greatest significance for Canada... You were the real force and inspiration that led all of us into a modern conception that suited this country, and the last to leave the home base of operations."[10]

Group of Seven[edit]

Group of seven artists: Frederick Varley, A. Y. Jackson, Lawren Harris, Fairley, Frank Johnston (artist), Arthur Lismer, and J. E. H. MacDonald

In 1919, Jackson and six painter colleagues formed the Group of Seven. These artists were considered to be bold, because the Canadian northern landscape had previously been considered too rugged and wild to be painted.[27] Like the other members of the Group of Seven many of his works began as tiny en plein air sketches in oil on hardboard.[28] Although his name is conventionally associated with this group, he would also remain something of a loner throughout his life.[29]: 191 

In 1925, he taught at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto; this was the only year that he missed his annual spring trip to Quebec.[2] In 1933, Jackson, along with Harris, was a founding member of the Canadian Group of Painters. Several members of the Group of Seven became members of this group, including A. J. Casson, Arthur Lismer and Franklin Carmichael.[30]

Later years[edit]

In 1943, Jackson first traveled to the Yukon with Henry George Glyde. He returned to the Yukon in 1964, this time with fellow artists Ralph Burton and Maurice Haycock, traveling by plane over the landscape.[31] In 1954 he was one of 18 Canadian artists commissioned by the Canadian Pacific Railway to paint a mural for the interior of one of the new Park cars entering service on the new Canadian transcontinental train. Each the murals depicted a different national or provincial park; Jackson's was Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park.[32] In 1953, a major retrospective titled A. Y. Jackson: Paintings 1901–1953 was held at the Art Gallery of Ontario and National Gallery of Canada of his work. Jackson moved to the Ottawa region in 1955, settling in Manotick. He maintained a studio in downtown Ottawa from 1963 to 1968.[33]

He was often accompanied on his peripatetic painting trips by artists such as Albert H. Robinson and Randolph Hewton. In his later years, on trips to the Ottawa Valley region, the Gatineau Hills, the Lievre River Valley and Ripond he was accompanied by friend, painter and former student Ralph Wallace Burton, and fellow painters Maurice Haycock and Stuart D. Helmsley.[34][35] One such venture almost ended in disaster: "[I]n the 1950s, when Ralph and A.Y. were painting on the banks of the Ottawa River at Deux Rivieres, a bullet ricocheted off a rock where Jackson was sitting."[34]

In 1958, he published A Painter's Country,[36] an autobiography dedicated to the memory of Group of Seven member J. E. H. MacDonald, who "visualized a Canadian school of painting and devoted his life to the realization of it".[37]

In 1964, Jackson submitted his own design during the Great Flag Debate. It was similar in design to the Pearson Pennant.[38]

In 1965, Jackson had a serious stroke that put an end to his painting career. He recuperated at the home of friend and painter Ralph Wallace Burton, and later moved to the McMichael Conservation Estate in Kleinburg, Ontario.[34][39] [40] Jackson died in 1974, over the Easter holiday in a nursing home in Toronto. He is buried on the grounds of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.[41] His niece Naomi Jackson Groves published several books about his life and work including Two Jacksons (2000), an account of a shared trip through France and Germany in 1936.[42][43]


Quotes from A. Y. Jackson[edit]

Of Algoma, he wrote:

Sketching here demanded a quick decision in composition, an ignoring or summarizing of much of the detail, a searching‒out of significant form, and a colour analysis that must never err on the side of timidity. One must know the north country intimately to appreciate the great variety of its forms. The impression of monotony that one receives from a train is soon dissipated when one gets into the bush. To fall into a formula for interpreting it is hardly possible.[53]


See more[edit]


  1. ^ a b A.Y. Jackson. "A.Y. Jackson – National Gallery of Canada | National Gallery of Canada". Gallery.ca. Archived from the original on September 25, 2012. Retrieved July 26, 2014.
  2. ^ a b Jackson, A. Y. "A.Y. Jackson". thecanadianencyclopedia.com. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  3. ^ Larsen, Wayne (September 21, 2009). A.Y. Jackson: The Life of a Landscape Painter. ISBN 9781459715271.
  4. ^ a b c d Larsen, Wayne (2009). A.Y. Jackson: The Life of a Landscape Painter. Dundurn. ISBN 9781770704527. Retrieved November 20, 2016.
  5. ^ Nash, Julie. "A.Y. JACKSON IN EUROPE: A BRUSH WITH IMPRESSIONISM". www.gallery.ca. National Gallery of Canada, 2019. Retrieved June 23, 2022.
  6. ^ "Archived copy". visipix.dynalias.com. Archived from the original on May 1, 2012. Retrieved January 15, 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ "View online". Museumsyndicate.com. Retrieved December 14, 2013.
  8. ^ MacDonald 1977, p. 521.
  9. ^ a b c Klages, Gregory (2016). The Many Deaths of Tom Thomson: Separating Fact from Fiction. Dundurn. ISBN 9781459731974. Retrieved November 20, 2016.
  10. ^ a b c Studio Building (Toronto)
  11. ^ MacDonald 1977, p. 522–525.
  12. ^ King, Ross (September 25, 2010). Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven – Ross King – Google Books. ISBN 9781553658078. Retrieved July 26, 2014.
  13. ^ Brandon, Laura (2007). Art and war. London: I.B. Tauris. ISBN 9781845112370.
  14. ^ Gallatin, Albert Eugene (1919). Art and the Great War. E.P. Dutton & Company. p. 141. Retrieved November 20, 2016.
  15. ^ Gallatin, Albert. (1919). Art and the Great War, p. 141., p. 141, at Google Books
  16. ^ MacDonald 1977, p. 522.
  17. ^ Brandon, Laura (2021). War Art in Canada: A Critical History. Toronto: Art Canada Institute. ISBN 978-1-4871-0271-5.
  18. ^ Burant, Jim (2022). Ottawa Art & Artists: An Illustrated History. Toronto: Art Canada Institute. ISBN 978-1-4871-0289-0.
  19. ^ a b Meadowcroft, Barbara (2000). Painting friends : the Beaver Hall women painters ([Nachdr.] ed.). [Montréal]: Véhicule Press. ISBN 9781550651256. OCLC 45044300.
  20. ^ "The Beaver Hall Group". Canadian Paintings in the Thirties. National Gallery of Canada. 1975. Archived from the original on May 10, 2017. Retrieved November 20, 2016.
  21. ^ Hill, Charles C. "Article". cowleyabbott.ca. Cowley Abbott Auction. Retrieved July 3, 2023.
  22. ^ A.Y. Jackson, A Painter's Country: The Autobiography of A.Y. Jackson (Clarke, Irwin & Company: Toronto, 1964), p. 69
  23. ^ Waddington & Waddington (2016), p. 226.
  24. ^ "Painting tied to Manhattan Project to be auctioned". Asia One. November 14, 2012. Archived from the original on March 6, 2016. Retrieved December 2, 2012. A 74-year-old painting depicting the Canadian mine that produced uranium for the world's first atomic bomb will go under the hammer in Toronto on November 22, set to fetch up to Can$300,000 (S$367,000).
  25. ^ Steve Murti (November 13, 2012). "Long unseen, 'Radium Mine' by Group of Seven great A.Y. Jackson has nuclear significance". Yahoo News. Archived from the original on November 17, 2012. Retrieved December 2, 2012. Jackson painted the work, along with one other now hanging in the National Gallery of Canada, during a 1938 visit to the Northwest Territories mine owned by his friend Gerald LaBine. The operation was on the eastern shore of Great Bear Lake, about 440 kilometres northwest of Yellowknife.
  26. ^ Burant, Jim (2022). Ottawa Art & Artists: An Illustrated History. Toronto: Art Canada Institute. ISBN 978-1-4871-0289-0.
  27. ^ "About the Group of Seven". Archived from the original on April 27, 2006. Retrieved April 30, 2006.
  28. ^ Bradfield, Helen (1970). Art Gallery of Ontario: the Canadian Collection. Toronto: McGraw Hill. pp. 205–213. ISBN 0070925046. Retrieved August 14, 2020.
  29. ^ Reid, Dennis (1988). A concise history of Canadian painting (2nd ed.). Toronto: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195406634.
  30. ^ MacDonald 1977, p. 525.
  31. ^ Reid, Dennis (1982). Alberta Rhythm: The Later Work of A.Y. Jackson. Ontario: Art Gallery of Ontario. p. 33. ISBN 9780919876873.
  32. ^ "The 50th Anniversary of the CPR Stainless Steel Passenger Fleet" (PDF). Canadian Rail (503): 211–223. November–December 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 24, 2015. Retrieved February 7, 2015.
  33. ^ Burant, Jim (2022). Ottawa Art & Artists: An Illustrated History. Toronto: Art Canada Institute. ISBN 978-1-4871-0289-0.
  34. ^ a b c [1][dead link]
  35. ^ [2] Archived March 14, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  36. ^ Jackson, Alexander Young (1976). A Painter's Country: The Autobiography of A. Y. Jackson. ISBN 978-0-7720-1102-2.
  37. ^ Jackson, A. Y., A Painter's Country, Clarke, Irwin & Company, 1958, Frontispiece
  38. ^ "CBC Digital Archives". Archives.cbc.ca. Retrieved July 26, 2014.
  39. ^ "Creative Flow: Celebrating Four Ottawa River Artists". ottawariverkeeper.ca. Archived from the original on December 14, 2013. Retrieved December 14, 2013.
  40. ^ "A. Y. Jackson". Galeriemolinas.com. Retrieved December 14, 2013.
  41. ^ Jackson, A.Y., 'A Painter's Country,' Clarke Irwin, 1976, Foreword by Naomi Jackson Groves
  42. ^ "GROVES, Naomi Jackson". cwahi.concordia.ca. Canadian Women Artists History Initiative : Artist Database : Artists : GROVES, Naomi Jackson. Retrieved November 19, 2016.
  43. ^ "Two Jacksons Abroad". www.penumbrapress.com. Penumbra Press: Books, Art Prints, Limited Editions, Collectibles. Archived from the original on May 24, 2022. Retrieved November 19, 2016.
  44. ^ "Honorary Degrees – Queen's" (PDF). www.queensu.ca. Queen`s University at Kingston. Retrieved May 26, 2022.
  45. ^ "Page 3333 | Supplement 37633, 28 June 1946 | London Gazette | the Gazette".
  46. ^ "Honorary Degrees". library.usask.ca. U Sask. Retrieved June 18, 2022.
  47. ^ "Order of Canada". www.gg.ca. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved January 26, 2022.
  48. ^ "A. Y. Jackson Secondary School, Toronto, ON". Ayjackson.ca. Retrieved December 14, 2013.
  49. ^ "A.Y. Jackson Secondary School, Kanata (Ottawa), ON". Ayj.ca. Archived from the original on December 14, 2013. Retrieved December 14, 2013.
  50. ^ Jackson, A. Y., A Painter's Country, Clarke Irwin, 1976, Foreword by Naomi Jackson Groves
  51. ^ "Spring on the Onaping River". Boldts.net. Retrieved December 14, 2013.
  52. ^ [3][dead link]
  53. ^ A. Y. Jackson, The Canadian Forum, vols. 1-2, p.175, Google Books

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]