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Observations placeholder

Thomson, Tom - Moonlight



Type of Spiritual Experience


Tom Thomson - Catalogue Raisonné Researched and written by Joan Murray

To clarify Thomson’s sources, an examination of one of his canvases, Moonlight, Winter 1913–14 (1913-1914.07) , painted in the Studio Building during the winter of 1913-14, is a useful example. In this exceedingly beautiful work, we see a luminous sky composed of firm strokes of green and pale lavender in which floats the moon. Light falls on a small section of distant landscape and on the lake at the bottom of the picture, and the painting, though strangely empty, feels full of radiance. Something about the land’s darkness adds to the effect – it looks mysterious. Colour, light, dark – these are the subject of the painting as well as its pictorial focus. With these elements as his base, Thomson, at the age of thirty-five, was beginning to develop his particular strategy – the use of colour to create an effect – that developed into an aesthetic.

In painting Moonlight, Thomson might have recalled MacDonald’s fascinating moonlight subject, painted in 1912, Early Evening, Winter (Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto), exhibited that year at the Annual Ontario Society of Artists show as well as the Canadian National Exhibition, where it was purchased for the collection. The painting combines a popular subject of the time – one related to the nocturnes of James McNeill Whistler – with Impressionism, the strong new force which had entered Canadian art. We can see the latter in the intricate tapestry-like web of colour and rich impasto handling MacDonald used to indicate the snowy hillside which occupies half the picture, and the green clouds that surround the moon.

Thomson may have recalled the green clouds of MacDonald’s Early Evening, Winter in the strokes of green paint he used to indicate the radiant moonlit sky in Moonlight. But his composition is far simpler and more powerful than MacDonald’s and his handling far bolder.

A description of the experience

The source of the experience

Thomson, Tom

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps