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MacDonald, James Edward Hervey (1872-1932)
Recent auction results 24-11-05 Lake O'hara 34 x 45 $909,640 USD 17-05-12 Early Autumn 8.5 x 10.4 $489,949 USD 19-11-07 Algoma Waterfall 8.5 x 10.5 $451,796 USD
In January 1913, MacDonald and Harris travelled to the Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York, where they attended an exhibit of Scandinavian Impressionist landscape paintings. The two artists felt that the uninhibited approach to the northern Scandinavian wilderness could be adopted by Canadian painters to create on canvas a unique Canadian form of landscape art. Later that year, commercial artists based in Toronto began to show interest in the potential of original Canadian expression; these artists began to congregate around MacDonald and Harris. In the spring of 1913, MacDonald wrote to A. Y. Jackson, inviting him to come to Toronto, which he did in May.
In March 1916, MacDonald exhibited The Tangled Garden at the Ottawa Society of Artists. Though derided by art critics of the day, it was a fairly conventional post-impressionistic painting of sunflowers—one that has much in common with Van Gogh's treatment of the subject from nearly forty years before, but which Canadian critics rejected. Accustomed to the smooth blending and muted tones of Canadian academic art in the style of the Canadian Art Club, the critics were taken aback by the brightness and intensity of the colours. The art critic for the Toronto Daily Star called it "an incoherent mass of color". Hostile art critics thereafter singled out MacDonald for attacks in the press.
In the autumn of 1918, MacDonald, Harris, and other artists interested in their new Canadian approach to painting travelled to the Algoma district north of Lake Superior in a specially outfitted Algoma Central Railway car that functioned as a mobile artist studio. The group would hitch their car to trains travelling through the area, and when they found a scenic location, they would unhitch and spend time exploring and painting the wilderness. MacDonald would return to Algoma with his colleagues for the next several autumns. These trips would produce some of his most acclaimed paintings, including Mist Fantasy, Sand River, Algoma (1920) and The Solemn Land (1921).
In 1920, MacDonald co-founded the Group of Seven, which dedicated itself to promoting a distinct Canadian art developed through direct contact with the Canadian landscape. The other founding members were Frederick Varley, A. Y. Jackson, Lawren Harris, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, and Franklin Carmichael. MacDonald had worked with Lismer, Varley, Johnston, and Carmichael at the design firm Grip Ltd. in Toronto. Together they initiated the first major Canadian national art movement, producing paintings directly inspired by the Canadian landscape.
Every summer beginning in 1924, MacDonald travelled to the Canadian Rockies to paint the mountainous landscapes that dominated his later work. By this time he had become somewhat alienated from the rest of the Group of Seven, as many of the younger members were beginning to paint in a more abstract manner.
From 1928 until his death MacDonald served as the Principal of the Ontario College of Art, and he painted with less frequency and less consistent success. Today, MacDonald is viewed with general admiration for his art, with one writer commenting, "no Canadian landscape painter possessed a richer command of colour and pigment than J. E. H. MacDonald ... His brushwork is at once disciplined and vigorous. His best on-the-spot sketches possess an intensity and freshness of execution not dissimilar from Van Gogh."
His former home and 4-acre garden in Vaughan, Ontario have been restored. Owned by the City of Vaughan, they are open to the public.