This image, with its lowering, dark cloud, is painting in the moment, an image that is totally action and emotion. Although controlled, it shows how out of control nature can be from the human vantage point. The sweeping vertical brush strokes on the left and the black and angry cloud on the right, set against the bright sky, are underscored by the equally ominous black tract of land in which spindly trees are about to be snapped to splinters by a force they cannot resist.


Art Canada Institute, Tom Thomson, Approaching Snowstorm, 1915
Tom Thomson, Approaching Snowstorm, 1915
Oil on wood, 21.3 x 26.6 cm, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

A few months after Thomson painted this explosive panel, Lawren Harris (1885–1970) watched him sketching a scene like this one. In The Story of the Group of Seven, Harris wrote:


“I remember one afternoon in early spring on the shore of one of the Cauchon Lakes in Algonquin Park when a dramatic thunderstorm came up. There was a wild rush of wind across the lake and all nature was tossed into a turmoil. Tom and I were in an abandoned lumber shack. When the storm broke, Tom looked out, grabbed his sketch box, ran out into the gale, squatted behind a big stump and commenced to paint in a fury. He was one with the storm’s fury, save that his activity, while keyed to a high pitch, was nonetheless controlled. In twenty minutes, Tom had caught in living paint the power and drama of storm in the north.”


This Spotlight is excerpted from Tom Thomson: Life & Work by David P. Silcox.

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