Tom Thomson – Summer Day (1915)

Let’s play a game. Let’s grab a patch of raw green grass, spread our limbs on it like starfish, stretch our vision to hold the blue of the sky, and tag the clouds above our heads. Does that one look like an elephant taking a bath?

And if you’re too shy or too busy to play my game, then Tom Thomson offers you the sky on a silver platter in Summer Day. It’s almost as if the Canadian has turned the world upside down. Clouds are billowing in the wind like sailboats gliding across seas, while the deep blue lake – a thin horizontal stretch at the bottom of the painting – is as imperturbable as the night sky. Around the clouds, sweeps of blue have been spontaneously applied with the reckless abandon of a 5-year-old leaning over her coloring book.

Tom Thomson - Summer Day (1915) original
Tom Thomson – Summer Day (1915), oil on composite wood-pulp board. McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg

Freedom comes with a complete change in perspective, and – in Thomson’s case – with thick brushstrokes and a break from civilization in the wilderness of Algonquin Park in Ontario. The artist spent every spring and summer between 1912 and 1917 there, traveling by canoe, camping along the way, and taking seasonal jobs as a fire ranger and a fishing guide, a flexible schedule which allowed him to complete at least a sketch a day in the great outdoors.

In Algonquin is where Thomson painted Summer Day and some of his best studies. It’s where he truly matured as a landscape artist. But sometime around July 8, 1917, this natural park became so much more than that – more than inspiration, more than a place of unbridled beauty. That summer Algonquin Park became the site where 39-year-old Thomson exhaled his last breath, his body found submerged in Canoe Lake. It was an abrupt end to a life still blooming, an inexplicable death that is shrouded in mystery even a century later. Whether it was murder, suicide, or a canoe accident, there is a tragic poetry to his life coming full circle, dying in the very place that birthed him as an artist.

18 thoughts on “Tom Thomson – Summer Day (1915)

  1. It looks so fresh and contemporary for 1915! What a wonderfully free and exhilarating image… Truly a slice of a life too short😱

    Liked by 1 person

  2. a life as ephemeral as the clouds
    a death as mysterious as them.

    Loved the way you opened this piece, Gabriela. Great lines.

    And this :
    “Freedom comes with a complete change in perspective”
    Or the act/will of changing perspectives is where freedom lies waiting for us!

    thank you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Rahul! I hadn’t realized the wisdom of my own words, “Freedom comes with a complete change in perspective.” I meant that very literally, but any sort of freedom requires breaking the mold, a change in perspective or pattern. It’s what artists do.

      And the irony is that you just offered me a change in perspective. It’s great to see my post through your eyes.

      “a life as ephemeral as the clouds/ a death as mysterious as them,” sums it up beautifully.

      Liked by 1 person

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