No Nudes, Please—We’re Canadian

Our national artistic fixation on landscapes came at a cost

Wilderness has had a deep and abiding effect on this country’s ideas of northernness, the land, and national and cultural identity. For much of the 20th century, this connection was exemplified in the work of the Group of Seven, who helped cement the relationship between landscape and national identity, as they aimed to provide Canadians with “a shared image of their communion,” to quote Benedict Anderson’s well-known epithet. Viewers found reaffirmation of this collective sense of identity in paintings such as Tom Thomson’s Jack Pine, F.H. Varley’s Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay and Lawren Harris’s Maligne Lake, Jasper Park. In 1916, Saturday Night magazine published an article jocularly recounting how the typical Canadian artist was a “husky beggar” who pulled on a pair of Strathcona boots and set off into the woods with a rifle, a paddle and enough baked beans for three months.