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J. E. H. MacDonald

J. E. H. MacDonald

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James Edward Hervey MacDonald (May 12, 1873 – November 26, 1932) was a member of the famous Group of Seven
Group of Seven (artists)
The Group of Seven, sometimes known as the Algonquin school, were a group of Canadian landscape painters from 1920-1933, originally consisting of Franklin Carmichael , Lawren Harris , A. Y. Jackson , Franz Johnston , Arthur Lismer , J. E. H. MacDonald , and Frederick Varley...

Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 artists. He is the father of Thoreau MacDonald
Thoreau MacDonald
Thoreau MacDonald was a Canadian illustrator, designer and painter.MacDonald was the son of Group of Seven member J. E. H. MacDonald. He was mainly self-taught, but he did work with his father...



He was born in Durham
Durham is a city in north east England. It is within the County Durham local government district, and is the county town of the larger ceremonial county...

, England. In 1887 at the age of 14, MacDonald moved with his family from England to Hamilton, Ontario
Hamilton, Ontario
Hamilton is a port city in the Canadian province of Ontario. Conceived by George Hamilton when he purchased the Durand farm shortly after the War of 1812, Hamilton has become the centre of a densely populated and industrialized region at the west end of Lake Ontario known as the Golden Horseshoe...

. Two years later, in 1889 they moved again to Toronto where he studied commercial art and became active in the Toronto Art Student League. In November 1911, MacDonald exhibited sketches at the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto. This was an important step as the exhibit brought him to the attention of Lawren Harris
Lawren Harris
Lawren Stewart Harris, CC was a Canadian painter. He was born in Brantford, Ontario and is best known as a member the Group of Seven who pioneered a distinctly Canadian painting style in the early twentieth century. A. Y. Jackson has been quoted as saying that Harris provided the stimulus for the...

, who encouraged MacDonald to keep painting and show his work whenever he could. MacDonald won acclaim in 1912 for his role in an exhibition at the Ottawa Society of Artists. In January 1913 he traveled to Buffalo, New York
Buffalo, New York
Buffalo is the second most populous city in the state of New York, after New York City. Located in Western New York on the eastern shores of Lake Erie and at the head of the Niagara River across from Fort Erie, Ontario, Buffalo is the seat of Erie County and the principal city of the...

, where he found in an exhibit of Scandinavian Impressionist paintings an uninhibited approach to northern wilderness that could be adopted by Canadian painters. By that year, other Toronto-based commercial artists who were also interested in the potential of original Canadian expression were beginning to congregate around him and Harris. Later that spring MacDonald wrote to A. Y. Jackson
A. Y. Jackson
Alexander Young Jackson, was a Canadian painter and a founding member of the Group of Seven.- Early life and training :...

, inviting him to come to Toronto, which he did in May.

Early critical reception

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
Post-Impressionism is the term coined by the British artist and art critic Roger Fry in 1910 to describe the development of French art since Manet. Fry used the term when he organized the 1910 exhibition Manet and Post-Impressionism...

 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
Canadian Art Club
-The Canadian Art Club:Established in Toronto in 1907 to advance the standards of Canadian art exhibitions and to exhibit the work of Canadian expatriate artists at home. The annual exhibitions organized in Toronto, and in Montreal in 1910 , included the finest work being produced by Canadian...

, the critics were taken aback by the brightness and intensity of the colours. "An incoherent mass of color," wrote an anonymous reviewer for the Toronto Star
Toronto Star
The Toronto Star is Canada's highest-circulation newspaper, based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Its print edition is distributed almost entirely within the province of Ontario...

. Hostile art critics thereafter singled out MacDonald for attacks in the press.

Later career

In Autumn 1918, MacDonald traveled to Algoma
Algoma District, Ontario
Algoma District is a district and census division in Northeastern Ontario in the Canadian province of Ontario. It was created in 1858 comprising territory as far west as Minnesota...

 in a specially outfitted railroad car that functioned as a mobile studio. He would follow this routine for the next several Autumns. From the car he did some of his most acclaimed paintings, including The Solemn Land of 1920.

MacDonald later traveled to the Rockies
Rocky Mountains
The Rocky Mountains are a major mountain range in western North America. The Rocky Mountains stretch more than from the northernmost part of British Columbia, in western Canada, to New Mexico, in the southwestern United States...

 every summer beginning in 1924 and mountainous landscapes dominate 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 acres (16,187.4 m²) garden in Vaughan, Ontario
Vaughan, Ontario
Vaughan is a city in York Region north of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Vaughan is the fastest growing municipality in Canada achieving a population growth rate of 80.2% between 1996–2006, according to Statistics Canada having nearly doubled in population since 1991. Vaughan is located in Southern...

 have been restored. Owned by the City of Vaughan, they are open to the public.

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