A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 16 to 18
What did the painter Vincent Van Gogh, the writer Edgar Allan Poe, and the composer Amadeus Mozart have in common? For one, they were all great artists. But they also all died penniless and unappreciated. It was not until significant time had passed that their artistic contributions were considered of historical importance. On the other hand, some artists are very popular in their lifetime, and become less popular over the years.
Tom Thomson is one of Canada’s most famous artists. Tragically, Thomson died young in 1917 while fishing in Algonquin Park, in northern Ontario. He was 39 years old and had only been painting the Canadian landscape, particularly in that region, for five years. Before that, he worked as a designer and illustrator. While painting in Algonquin, he earned money as a wilderness guide. In those days, Thomson might be offered ten dollars for a small painting. Over time, Thomson became a Canadian icon – a man who appreciated Canada’s wilderness and communicated its beauty in a unique way. Recently, one of his paintings sold for over one million dollars at auction.
The mystery of Thomson’s death has seemed to dominate people’s impressions of him. But what about his talent as an artist? Was he always recognized and appreciated? Have people’s impressions of Thomson and his contributions to Canadian art changed since his death? If so, how?
Your challenge is to determine if, and how, impressions of Tom Thomson’s character and his contributions as an artist have changed over time. To accomplish this task, you will need to learn more about Thomson’s life and art. You will analyze various impressions of the man and of his artwork during two periods: around 1917 at the time of his death, and around 1977 on the 100th anniversary of his birth. Based on this, you will judge how impressions of Thomson the man and the artist have changed and remained constant over time, and of the changes which of these are the most significant.