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The Mysteries of Tom Thomson

Matthew Harrison

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ninety three years ago today the body of Tom Thomson was recovered from Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park.
TomThomson-PortraitThe death of one of Canada's most beloved painters is shrouded in mystery.  The official word was that it was an accidental drowning.  An experienced park guide and canoeist, many scoff at that ruling.  They suggest murder over a love interest, or over an unpaid loan.  Others even say he committed suicide.
I remember as a kid being fascinated by all this.  I learned about the 'mystery' when visiting Algonquin Park in the summer, and would buy any and all books related to Thomson to learn more about this Canadian icon.
This of course led to a love of his artwork.  Often mentioned in the same breath as the Canadian landscape painters the Group of Seven, Thomson died before the group officially came together, but was friends with a number of the members.  His paintings were instrumental in establishing an identity for Canadian art and even for Canada.
I am always amazed by the way he unearthed beauty in scenes that are so familiar; a forest, a lone tree, a river.  He turns the ordinary into the extraordinary.
This is the great gift artists give to us.  Their ability to highlight the simple beauty of everyday life -- and of course for us as Catholics, we see the reflection of God in this beauty.
This is an important aspect in the thought of the great Church Doctor St. Bonaventure, whose feast day we celebrate today.  Last September, when visiting Bagnoreggio, the birthplace of the Franciscan saint, Pope Benedict said:
St. Bonaventure presents a positive vision of the world, gift of God's love to men: He recognizes in it the reflection of the highest Goodness and Beauty that, following St. Augustine and St. Francis, assures us that it is God himself. God has given it all to us. From him, as original source, flow truth, goodness and beauty. ... How useful it would be if also today we rediscovered the beauty and value of creation in the light of divine goodness and beauty!
Thom_Thomson,_Le_Pin,_1916-1917,_huile_sur_toile,_127,9_x_139,8_cm,_Musée_des_Beaux-Arts_du_CanadaIn Thomson's bold colours, in his blustery brush strokes that capture our rugged Canadian landscape, I see more than just a snapshot of a hidden lake in northern Ontario, but a portrait of Goodness and Beauty, a portrait of God.
The circumstances surrounding Thomson's disappearance remain a mystery.
But his legacy continues to offer us an opportunity to reflect on an even greater Mystery.
Portrait Credit: Library and Archives Canada / PA-121719

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