Born in Sheffield, England, Canadian artist Arthur Lismer showed an early interest in art. At the age of thirteen, he won a scholarship to study at night at the Sheffield School of Art while apprenticing in the printing business by day.
In 1906 Lismer went to Antwerp to study at the Académie des Beaux-Arts. Back in Sheffield, he was scouted by Fred Brigden and his father and came to Canada where he joined Grip Limited in February of 1911. While there, Lismer was introduced to his fellow employees including J.E.H. MacDonald, Tom Thomson, Franz (Frank) Johnston and others under the management of Albert Robson.
He was invited to join the Arts and Letters Club, and it was there that Lismer met Lawren Harris and A.Y. Jackson. In 1912 Robson went to Rous and Mann Limited, taking Franklin H. Carmichael, Johnston, Lismer, Frederick Varley and Thomson with him.
In May of 1914, Lismer made his first visit to Algonquin Park in the company of Tom Thomson. There the seeds were set for the formation of the Group of Seven. He held various teaching posts over the years, becoming principal of the Victoria School of Art and Design in Halifax in 1916, returning to become vice-principal of the Ontario College of Art. In the same year, he was elected Associate of the Royal Canadian Academy.
Lismer exhibited sixteen of his works in his first Group of Seven show at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1920. In 1922 he completed ‘Isles of Spruce’, a landscape of a northern lake in complete calm, with a cluster of spruce trees on a low rocky island casting a reflection on the water. Not a living thing stirs under a blue sky with high floating clouds, giving a sense of isolation and silence which is perhaps broken by the sound of a distant crow or loon.
Reproduced by Sampson Matthews Limited as a serigraph under supervision by A.J. Casson, ‘Isles of Spruce’ was also issued as a six cent stamp in September 1970, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Group of Seven.
Lismer exhibited widely during his life, and a retrospective memorial exhibition was held at the National Gallery of Canada in 1969. Lismer’s work is represented in numerous public collections including the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, Hart House, The McMichael Conservation Collection, the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen’s University at Kingston, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the New Brunswick Museum, among others.