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James Edward Hervey MacDonald (May 12, 1873 – November 26, 1932) was a member of the famous Group of Seven Canadian artists. He is the father of Thoreau MacDonald.


He was born in Durham, England. In 1887 at the age of 14, MacDonald moved with his family from England to Hamilton, Ontario. 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, 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, 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, inviting him to come to Toronto, which he did in May.

Early critical reception
The Tangled Garden, Oil on canvas, 1916

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[citation needed] 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. "An incoherent mass of color," wrote an anonymous reviewer for the Toronto Star[cite this quote]. Hostile art critics thereafter singled out MacDonald for attacks in the press.[1]

Later career
The Solemn Land, Oil on canvas, 1920

In Autumn 1918, MacDonald travelled to Algoma 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 travelled to the Rockies 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 vigourous. His best on-the-spot sketches possess an intensity and freshness of execution not dissimilar from Van Gogh."[2] His former home and 4-acre (16,000 m2) garden in Vaughan, Ontario have been restored. Owned by the City of Vaughan, they are open to the public.[3]


1. ^ Robson, Albert H. (1937). J. E. H. MacDonald. Toronto: Rous and Mann Limited. . "Beginning in 1916 ... his large canvases dominated the exhibitions and incidentally attracted the major portion of press criticism", p. 9
2. ^ Paul Duval, J.E.H. Macdonald biography in The McMichael Canadian Collection, Kleinburg, Ontario, 1979. p. 51
3. ^ City of Vaughan, "J.E.H./Thoreau MacDonald House"

* Reid, Dennis (1988). A Concise History of Canadian Painting, Second Edition. Don Mills: Oxford University Press Canada. ISBN 0-19-540663-X.

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