The Work: West Wind, 1917
Oil on canvas
120.7 cm × 137.2 cm (47.5 in × 54.0 in)
Location: Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
The Artist: Tom Thomson
The West Wind is a painting by Canadian artist Tom Thomson. An iconic image, the pine at its centre has been described as growing "in the national ethos as our one and only tree in a country of trees". It was the artist's final painting, and according to some art historians was unfinished at the time of his sudden death by drowning in 1917
Thomson based The West Wind on an earlier, slightly different sketch he produced in 1916 while working as a park ranger in Algonquin Park. In the finished canvas Thomson moved the pine further to the right, replaced a less defined foreground plane with strongly patterned rock shapes, and removed a dead tree limb from the ground. The location of the subject is uncertain; Thomson's friend Winifred Trainor believed the site represented was Cedar Lake, though Grand Lake, Algonquin Park has also been proposed as the setting. Some locals believe the location to be on Kawawaymog Lake.
Early Snow, 1916
Oil on Canvas 44.60 X 44.60 cm
by Tom Thomson
Tom Thomson (Thomas John Thomson)
Born: August 5, 1877, Claremont, Ontario, Canada
Died: July 8, 1917 (aged 39), Canoe Lake, Algonquin Park, Ontario
Born in 1877 on a farm in Ontario, the sixth of ten children, Thomas John Thomson began his life rooted to the land beside the sparkling waters of Georgian Bay. At the age of 22, he followed his eldest brother west to the gold rush town of Seattle, where he trained in commercial art and soon found work at a photo engraving firm. He also met the beautiful young Alice Eleanor Lambert.
Thomson returned to Canada in 1905 and continued to work in commercial art. He was encouraged to paint by his new colleagues, J.E.H. MacDonald, Arthur Lismer and Fred Varley, future members of the Group of Seven. Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson and Franklin Carmichael soon became part of Thomson’s circle. When Dr. James MacCallum saw the 'truthfulness' of Thomson’s early sketches, he offered financial support, enabling Thomson to devote himself full time to painting.
In 1912 Thomson went to Algonquin Park. He encouraged his colleagues to join him, where they painted together and became known as the Algonquin School. It was at Canoe Lake where Thomson became acquainted with Winnifred Trainor.
On July 8, 1917, just as he was gaining real confidence and mastering his craft, Thomson paddled across Canoe Lake and disappeared. His body surfaced 8 days later. Was it an accident, suicide or murder? The cause of his death remains a mystery to this day.
When Thomson died, his iconic painting The West Wind, with its single tree bent against the strong prevailing winds, was found on his easel in his studio in Toronto. Some feel the painting is unresolved, unfinished, as was Thomson's life. Others see it as representation of a determined, solitary spirit finding his place in the northern ruggedness of Canada.
"Thomson sought the wilderness, never seeking to tame it,
but only to draw from it,
its magic of tangle and season."
- Arthur Lismer, colleague
Northern Light: The Enduring Mystery of Tom Thomson
and the Woman Who Loved Him -
The Many Deaths of Tom Thomson: Separating Fact from Fiction
The Twins: 12 cents / Printing: 13,700,000 each
April in Algonquin Park, left
Autumn Birches, right
Issued: May 26, 1977
The Jack Pine below
Issued: February 8, 1967
Masterpieces of Canadian Art #3 in the set
50¢ / Printing: 10,500,000
The West Wind above
Issued: May 3, 1990