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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
For someone like myself who has only a cursory knowledge of the modern Canadian art scene, reading King's "Defiant Spirits" offered me a great opportunity to journey into the past and discover a dynamic movement that continues to reshape our country's national image both at home and abroad. In this book, King very methodically and descriptively pieces together the story of how a number of landscape painters came together in the early part of the 20th century to develop a radically new concept of how Canadians might choose to see the land they called Canada. Based on a strong influence of impressionism and post-impressionism coming out of Europe in the late 19th century, these seven men and their many associates developed an interpretation of rural and urban Canada that was representative of many deep spiritual encounters with the natural, social and economic forces shaping this young nation. To assist his readers to come to grips with the emotive power of their expressive paintings, King takes them through the transformation that each painter like Jackson, Varley, Harris, Lismer, Johnston, and Thomson experienced on their road to creating a made-in-Canada art form. Along the way, there were many bumps and reversals that were only overcome by their ability to feed of each other and refine the signature product. Mixed in with the discussion of their personal lives is considerable reference to the famous technique of painting that embodied the innovative use of gaudy colors to unlock extraordinary sensations from a natural landscape. The two parts of the account that really hit home with me were the personal struggles and tragic death of Thomson and the war experiences of Jackson and Varley as they worked on the Western Front as war painters. Their personal demons and inadequacies found their way into their work in such a way as to capture both the solace of beauty and the harshness of reality. Included in this book is an excellent set of prints that allows the reader a fair representation of the many pieces this fraternity produced. This is truly an enlightening and inspiring biography that needs to be read by all Canadians who admire the role that the natural world plays in making our country a great place to live and love.
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on July 3, 2013
I read the book out of passing curiosity over the Group of Seven and a touch of duty as an immigrant to Canada, but this book has amply rewarded me in every way. There's a whole bunch of research that's gone into it, but Ross King has made it approachable and fun even.
Lawren Harris has held my fascination for some time for his blue-and-white Arctic-themed pictures, and I was able to find out about his spring trip to Labrador. Also engaging was the backgrounder on WWI and A.Y. Jackson's sacrifice in it as contrasted with Tom Thomson, who got vilified by some for not enlisting, which King set as part of the backdrop for Thomson's possibly most famous last piece, the Jack Pine.
And all over the place, all these vignettes are so nicely placed, I'll just have to reread the book, this time in the right order. And then go visit the Group of Seven exhibit at the AGO with fresh eyes.
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on February 2, 2015
An intelligent and insightful read--not only for its illumination of the "Algonquin School" and its members, but also for its wide ranging coverage of issues surrounding Canadian nationalism and identity, our distinguished role in the first war, and international movements in visual arts, literature and philosophy. It's quite a Rah Rah book about Canada and makes one proud. I was surprised by King's depth and scope--and through his anecdotes and meanderings learned a great deal, not only about the Algonquin painters, but also about Canadian and Toronto history. Highly recommended for those with a keen interest in Canadian and art history.
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on December 29, 2011
The Group of Seven has always been of interest to me as I am an artist myself. I also feel it is important to promote our own canadian artists.
The author, Ross King, has done an extensive amount of research to put this book together. I found the style of his writing made the collection of artists and the history of Canada well done. Especially the political troubles of the First World War.
This excellent piece of writing is the kind of book that I enjoy being an artist who is still studying, I also have a deep love for Canadian history.
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on November 1, 2013
Excellent book -- captures the "spirit" and stories behind the Group of Seven painters in a rich and colourful fashion. For those who enjoy history, Canadian art, or just a well-written non-fiction book, this is rare treat.

Wonderous stuff.

I also suggest the book, Picturing the Land: Narrating Territories in Canadian Landscape Art, 1500-1950
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on June 26, 2014
This book offers a more complete look at the lives and work of this famous group of Canadian painters. It goes well beyond the superficial information most Canadians have about these important artists, to "paint" a more complete picture. Well written and highly recommended to art lovers or historians.
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on November 5, 2012
Very well documented and delightfully written. A very good read and in some cases little known information now shared. I highly recommend this book. I am an art teacher and truly appreciated what I learned and all the backgound setting which contributed to understanding the new for a truly Canadian art form.
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on March 4, 2013
One of the most readable, well written books on the Group of Seven. The art is put in its context of time and told in a way that is utterly absorbing. If you like art and history and the stories of the works in context, this book is highly recommended.
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on June 15, 2014
This book is a must for anyone interested in Canadian art. It tells the fascinating tale of the forming of the Group of Seven. Well written and engaging.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 2014
I have read many books about the Group of Seven and was eager to read this one, as the cover praises it will mentions of nominations, best of, etc. But what a huge disapointment it has been. It is truely a story told by someone who gathered informations and then made a collage of them, never questionning if they were historically correct, or just assumptions served as truths, told over and over again. Doing so, the writer serves us again all sorts of old and tired clichés that have no reasons to survive in this era.How should I put it. The 'facts', the biographical material, the factual stuff, about the members of the Group of Seven, and Tom Thompson, are great. Unfortunately, the book doesn't just deliver that, it tries to deliver the factual, in a larger view of Canada - late 19th century, early XXth - about the art scene (or supposedly lack of) in Toronto and Montreal in that time. Which tells me that the writer is only serving us stuff already written previously elsewhere, and did not do as thorough a fact checking job on those aspects as he did on the painters themselves. After a while, I just couldn't stand it, The vision of Canada carried in this book, and of the two cultural centers of the time (Toronto and Montreal) is so out of date, I just don't get it. How could this book have gotten such good reviews. I must not be reading the same book as all these other people. In the end, it was so frustrating to have to put up with the botched up job of the writer that the biographical material about the Group of Seven and Tom Thompson wasn't enough to keep me going. Maybe one day I'll have more patience and pick it up again.
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