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Tom Thomson's West Wind Sketch 1916

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Tom painted and was inspired by what he saw. The comments applied to the final “West Wind” also apply to the sketch.   

Tom’s motivation to “record” this particular observation – the tree, colours of the hills and the cloud structure. The wind is everywhere in this sketch (included below) – the water waves, the white caps, the streets of turbulent stratocumulus, the shape of individual cloud elements, the flagged Jack pines ... the wind is in everything. 

The behind the scene story is that Tom Thomson was with Dr MacCullum, Lawren Harris and Lawren’s cousin Chester on Lake Cauchon when he painted the sketch. “It was blowing very hard and Lawren Harris was painting further up the shore. The wind blew down the tree of the picture, and Harris first thought that Thomson was killed but he soon sprang up, waved his hand to him and went on painting.” Dr MacCullum note to Miss A. L. Beatty, secretary to the curator of the Art Gallery of Ontario, dated May 14, 1937. 

Lawren Harris described the cold frontal passage in a 1948 lecture although he did not refer to the "West Wind" by name.

"...one afternoon in early spring on the shore of one of the Cauchon Lakes in Algonquin Park ... a dramatic thunderstorm came up. There was a wild rush of wind across the lake and all nature was tossed into turmoil. Tom and I were in an abandoned shack. When the storm broke Tom looked out, grabbed his sketch box, ran out into the gale, squatted behind a big stump and commenced to paint in a fury." How much proof does one need to conclude that Tom Thomson was a weatherman? Spring thunderstorms are typically frontal.

Tom started a studio version of this sketch the following winter. That iconic painting was still on his easel in the Toronto studio shack when his friends went to clean it out after Tom died. Tom had told his fiancee Winnie Trainor that he was "much grieved" by the studio painting and unsure what to do with it to finish it besides destroying it. The West Wind was never completed. 

I have been nose to nose with the West Wind many times. Sometimes the best brush work is the rough and unfinished strokes of uncertainly. Sometimes artists worry and think too much - just my opinion of course.

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