Tom Thomson

Tom Thomson was a young Canadian painter, sketch artist and woodsman whose work showed his deep love for nature through his landscapes. Born in Claremont, Ontario on August 5, 1877 into a large Scottish family, Tom Thomson began his life raised on a farm overlooking the Georgian Bay. This early engulfment in nature instilled a love for the untamed countryside that will inundate his paintings in years to come.

In 1901, Tom Thomson decided to move to Seattle with his brother. He went to a business school there and trained in commercial art and photo engraving. In 1905, he returned to Toronto, Canada and began working for Legg Brothers as a senior artist at photo engraving. Through the next eight years, Thomson worked at different engraving firms, developing his sense of design and meeting other artists who had similar interests. In 1912, he moved to Algonquin Park which would be a turning point for his career and painting. He created and exhibited his first major canvas at Ontario’s Society of Artists in 1913. His work intrigued an Ophthalmologist who supported him financially for a year so that he could concentrate solely on painting.

In 1914-17, he sketched and became a guide for visitors to the park, also becoming a fire Ranger for a time. This immersion in nature became the backbone of his paintings. Through the years, Tom Thomson’s style changed dramatically from a photo-like precision of his early works to his almost abstract, bold and colorful paintings with broad paint strokes towards the end of his brief life. His paintings expressed his deep love and understanding of the spirit of nature. He wrote to a friend, “[…]the best I can do does not do the place much justice in the way of beauty”. On July 8, 1917, just shy of his thirtieth birthday, Tom Thomson went out paddling on Lake Canoe and disappeared for eight days before a hiker found his body. Records will show his death as an accidental drowning, but many people believe otherwise and suspect foul play.

"Thomson sought the wilderness, never seeking to tame it, but only to draw from it, its magic of tangle and season."

- Arthur Lismer, colleague