Arthur Robson, art director at Grip Ltd, Canadian Landscape Painters, 1932

Arthur Robson

My first meeting with Thomson was about 1908. A tall, lanky young man in a dark blue serge suit and gray flannel shirt applied for a position in the art department of Grip Limited where I was art director. He was clean cut, almost classical in features, with a mop of black hair combed down over his right forehead. There was something intriguing about Thomson, a quiet reserve, a reticence almost approaching bashfulness. There was no bombast or assertiveness as he handed me a bundle of his work and asked if there was an opening in the art department. His samples consisted mostly of lettering and decorative designs applied to booklet covers and some labels. A quick glance at his drawings revealed something more than mechanical and technical proficiency, there was a feeling for spacing and arrangement, an over-tone of intellectual as well as aesthetic approach to his work and we quickly closed arrangements for him to join the staff.

Shortly after hiring him I received a gratuitous and unsolicited telephone call from his previous employer belittling Thomson as a erratic and difficult man in a department. This was absurd as it was untrue. Thomson was a most diligent, reliable and capable craftsman. Nothing seemed to disturb the even tenor of his way. Only once did I ever see him lose his temper and that was in 1912. A man under the influence of liquor got into the studio and made himself as objectionable as possible. Tom tried to continue his work, but when the visitor became personally abusive Tom’s temper finally rose. He took off his coat and threw the visitor out of the building. The noise of overturning chairs and tables attracted my attention, but by the time I got there Tom was brushing imaginary dust of his hands and settling back to finishing his drawing.

Tom possessed a complete and satisfactory work within himself. He apparently did not feel any great need for human companionship and so made friends slowly. When he joined “Grip’, it was some time before he found common ground with other members of the art staff. Among his fellow workers in the department were such men as J.E.H MacDonald, F. Horseman Varley, Frank Carmichael, Arthur Lismer, William Broadhead, Franklin Johnston, T.W. McLean, Ben Jackson, Ivor Lewis and many others. …

In the summer of 1912 Thomson took his first extended vacation in Algonquin Park, and, brought back a series of sketches which showed a tremendous advance in technical power and purity of colour. Strolling up from the station in his woodsman outfit and carrying the bundles of sketches, he reported his return to work and left the sketches for inspection. We urged him to paint one of his sketches upon a large canvass. And gave him the keys and use of the studio on week-ends. So ‘A Northern Lake’ came into being in 1913, his first attempt on a large canvass. It attracted the admiration of his fellow artists and to his astonishment was purchased by the Government of Ontario.

Arthur Robson, Canadian Landscape Painters, 1932