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The Art of JAMA |

Fire-Swept, Algoma Franz Johnston

Thomas B. Cole, MD, MPH
JAMA. 2014;312(5):466-467. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.279643.
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The fire has moved on past the blackened remains of a young forest. A loose network of exploded branches lies on a bed of ash. Time is suspended; spots of red at the far right of Fire-Swept, Algoma appear to be embers, but the band of green vegetation peeking over the rim of a gully suggests the fire was extinguished at least a month ago. In the cycle of forest succession, small fires burn away the undergrowth and leave tall trees standing, but high-intensity fires, like the one that created this landscape, consume brush and trees alike. Over the next few years the forest will regenerate, but it will take a hundred years or more to fully mature. This picture was composed in the Algoma District of Ontario, Canada, once exploited for its wealth of timber and ore but re-envisioned in the 1920s as a destination for wilderness tourism. Landscape paintings and photographs of Algoma raised awareness of the region’s wild beauty and helped to establish a national style of landscape art. Before Franz Johnston (1888-1949) painted Fire-Swept, Algoma, the Canadian landscape was considered too rough—even by Canadians—to be a fit subject for fine art. Johnston and his colleagues developed a style to suit the character of the Canadian wilderness—messy, primeval, and immense.

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Franz Johnston (1888-1949), Fire-Swept, Algoma, 1920, Canadian. Oil on canvas. 127.5 × 167.5 cm. Courtesy of the National Gallery of Canada (http://www.gallery.ca/en/) Ottawa, Ontario. Photo © NGC.

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