One of the first paintings in its permanent collection of Canadian Art is being celebrated in Thomson’s Painting, an exhibition at the Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery.The exhibition, running through March 15 at the downtown Sarnia public art gallery, features Chill November – a 1916 oil painting by the Canadian artist Tom Thomson purchased in 1920 by the Sarnia Women’s Conservation Art Association.The association was made up of 10 Sarnia women who had been part of a group of volunteers raising funds for the Red Cross during the First World War. After the war ended, they teamed up with Norman Gurd, a member of the Sarnia Library Board, to raise money to collect art for a public gallery they hoped would one day open in the city.

What became known as the Sarnia Art Movement worked with Gurd and James McCallum, a Toronto doctor who was an early supporter and patron of painters in the Group of Seven, to collect work from contemporary Canadian artists.

Several Group of Seven paintings, along with Thomson’s Chill November, were part of approximately 25 pieces of Canadian art the association donated to the city’s library in 1956, where an art gallery was established a few years later.

Tom Thomson, Chill November, 1916, oil on Canvas. From the collection of the Judith and Norman Art Gallery, a gift of the Sarnia Women’s Conservation Art Association.
Tom Thomson, Chill November, 1916, oil on Canvas. From the collection of the Judith and Norman Art Gallery, a gift of the Sarnia Women’s Conservation Art Association.
The gallery was transferred several years ago to Lambton County and it built the current downtown facility that is home to a permanent collection currently numbering 1,253 pieces of art.Sonya Blazek, curator-supervisor of the gallery, said the Thomson exhibition got its start with a Sarnia student artist, Blair Tate, who had a summer job at the gallery.He spent time focusing on the Thomson painting and gathered information from the gallery and county archives when gallery officials noticed the 100th anniversary of the painting’s purchase was approaching.

“It’s kind of a cool opportunity to take a closer look at one of the paintings in the permanent collection,” Blazek said about the exhibition that research inspired.

It opened in early October and includes background about the painting and the artist, as well as publications and other shows featuring the piece, including a 1927 Canadian art exhibition that travelled to Paris.

Also in the new Sarnia exhibition is the Women’s Conservation Art Association’s purchase book showing it spent $600 in 1920 to buy Chill November, a few years after Thomson’s mysterious death in 1917 while he was on a fishing trip.

A smaller painting by Thomson sold for $480,000 in 2018 at auction in Toronto.

Joining the painting in the show is an original Thomson sketch, on loan from Museum London.

The sketch, Wild Geese, was likely painted in 1915 or 1916 near Algonquin Park and served as the model when Thomson painted Chill November at home in Toronto.

It has been 15 years since the sketch and painting have been shown together, Blazek said.

“He was the prelude to the Group of Seven,” Blazek said about Thomson, who knew members of the group but died before it formed.

Thomson died mysteriously early in his career and became a Canadian legend, even receiving a reference in a song by The Tragically Hip.

“He’s a huge Canadian art figure,” Blazek said.

“A lot of people love Tom Thomson,” and the painting, Chill November, “is absolutely stunning,” she said.

Volunteers and patrons of the gallery look forward to opportunities to see Chill November, and other pieces from the original Women’s Conservation Art Association donation, when they’re featured in exhibitions, Blazek said.

“It’s like they’re coming to see an old friend.”

Blazek said the exhibition is also an opportunity for the public to enjoy the well-travelled and well-preserved painting created more than a century ago.

“We’re so grateful to the Women’s Conservation Art Association for thinking about doing this for us, and we’re so lucky we have the opportunity to care for it,” she said.

The Sarnia Observer
By Paul Morden
November 1
, 2019

Original Article