Tom Thomson, J. E. H. MacDonald, Arthur Lismer, A.J. (Alfred Joseph) Casson, Frederick Varley, Frank Johnston and Franklin Carmichael met as employees of the design firm Grip Ltd. in Toronto. In 1913, they were joined by A. Y. (Alexander Young) Jackson and Lawren Harris. They often met at the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto to discuss their opinions and share their art.
This group received monetary support from Harris (heir to the Massey-Harris farm machinery fortune) and Dr. James MacCallum. Harris and MacCallum jointly built the Studio Building in the Rosedale ravine to serve as a meeting and working place for the new Canadian art movement.
MacCallum owned land on Georgian Bay and Thomson worked as a guide in nearby Algonquin Park, both places where he and the other artists often travelled for inspiration.
The informal group was temporarily split up during World War I, during which Jackson and Varley became official war artists. A further blow to the group came in 1917 when Thomson died while canoeing in Algonquin Park. He appeared to have suffered a blow to the head and showed no signs of drowning. The circumstances of his death remain mysterious.
The seven who formed the original group reunited after the war. They continued to travel throughout Ontario, especially the Muskoka and Algoma regions, sketching the landscape and developing techniques to represent it in art. In 1919 they began to call themselves the Group of Seven, and by 1920 they were ready for their first exhibition. Prior to this, many artists believed the Canadian landscape was either unpaintable or not worthy of being painted. Reviews for the 1920 exhibition were mixed, but as the decade progressed the Group came to be recognized as pioneers of a new, Canadian, school of art.
After Frank Johnston left the group in 1921, A. J. Casson seemed like an appropriate replacement. Franklin Carmichael had taken a liking to him and had encouraged Casson to sketch and paint for many years beforehand. A. J. Casson was invited to join in 1926, and accepted.
The Group's champions during its early years included Barker Fairley, a co-founder of Canadian Forum magazine, and the warden of Hart House at the University of Toronto, J. Burgon Bickersteth.
The members of the Group began to travel elsewhere in Canada for inspiration, including British Columbia, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and the Arctic. These painters were the first artists of European descent who depicted the Arctic. In 1926 A. J. Casson joined the group which soon numbered ten members with the additions of Edwin Holgate and LeMoine Fitzgerald.
The Group's influence was so widespread by the end of 1931 that they no longer found it necessary to continue as a group of painters. At their eighth exhibition in December of that year they announced that they had disbanded and that a new association of painters would be formed, known as the Canadian Group of Painters. The Canadian Group held its first exhibition in 1933.
A large collection of work from the Group of Seven can be found in the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinberg, Ontario. This gallery contains over 6000 pieces of art from the Group of Seven, Tom Thomson and their contemporaries, and First Nations, Inuit and other artists who have made a contribution to Canada's artistic heritage.
The gallery was founded by Robert and Signe McMichael, who began collecting paintings by the Group of Seven and their contemporaries in 1955.
The Group of Seven has received criticism for its reinforcement of terra nullius presenting the region as pristine and untouched by humans when in fact the areas depicted have been lived on for many centuries.
In 1995, the National Gallery of Canada compiled a Group of Seven retrospective show, for which they commissioned the Canadian rock band Rheostatics to write a musical score. That score was released on album as Music Inspired by the Group of Seven.
Six members of the group, A.Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer, Frederick Varley, Lawren Harris, Frank Johnston, and A.J. Casson along with four of the artists' wives are buried onsite at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in the small patch of consecrated land bordered by trees, with graves marked by large chunks of the Canadian Shield. (From Wikipedia)