J E H MacDonald

Section 11, Lot 310
Prospect Cemetery

“An Art must grow and flower in the land before the country will be a real home for its people.”  This statement appeared in the 1920 catalogue of the first public exhibition of the Group of Seven in Toronto. Appalled by the senseless carnage of the First World War and disaffected by the rigidities of academic European painting, these artists found inspiration in the northern landscape. “The Tangled Garden,” the 1916 canvas of blazing colour by J. E. H. MacDonald, fused hue and texture to great dramatic effect. It marked the turning point in the break with convention of twentieth century Canadian painting. Born in England on May 12, 1873, to a family of modest means, MacDonald came to Hamilton, Ontario at the age of 14. He was apprenticed to a lithographer, and attended art school at night. For 20 years he was employed by the commercial art firm, Grip Limited, where he eventually became head designer. Tom Thomson, Arthur Lismer, and Frank Carmichael, fellow artists in the Group of Seven also worked there. In 1911 MacDonald quit his job and spent time painting in the Georgian Bay and Burks Falls areas. He was often in financial straits, and suffered from ill health. In 1913, he met A. Y. Jackson at the Arts and Letters Club, and they began to work in Lawren Harris’ “Studio” building. In 1918, having recovered from a stroke, he made the first of several visits to the Algoma region, the inspiration for some of his finest work. At the British Empire Exhibition in Wembley, he received critical acclaim for such works as “Forest Wilderness,” presently part of the McMichael Collection. A man of gentle disposition, MacDonald also wrote lyric poetry. The anthology “West by East,” was illustrated by his son Thoreau. He taught at the Ontario College of Art from 1922 to 1932, and was Principal of the school when he died on November 26, 1932 of a massive stroke. He was interred in the family plot at Prospect Cemetery, where a simple headstone and footstone mark his passing. The canvases of James Edward Hervey MacDonald may well be considered his most eloquent epitaph.

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