Tuesday, September 11, 2007

J.E.H. MacDonald (1973-1932)

Sierra Club


If the function of the artist is to see, the first duty of the critic is to understand what the artist saw.


Please browse our Amazon list of titles about J.E.H. MacDonald. For rare and hard to find works we recommend our Alibris list of titles about J.E.H. MacDonald.


Logos Group of Seven Art Gallery
COPAC UK: J.E.H. MacDonald
Library of Canada Search Form
Library of Congress: J.E.H. MacDonald


J. E. H. MacDonald was the major force and inspiration in the formation of the Group of Seven. His son Thoreau MacDonald became an accomplished artist in his own right. The elder MacDonald was born in England and came to Canada at age thirteen where he studied at the Hamilton Art School, Hamilton. He worked as a commercial artist for Toronto Lithography Company and then Grip Ltd. After taking two years off to work as a book designer for Carleton, MacDonald became head designer at Grip.

To those who did not know him well, he appeared to be a quiet and shy redhead of frail stature with the dreamy air of a poet and philosopher. Underneath, he was a practical man who had great strength of character and was respected by the other artists as a father figure. A transcendentalist who read Whitman and Thoreau, MacDonald believed that through nature, man reached a higher spiritual end. This he tried to show through his art.

In 1911, MacDonald moved his wife and family to Thornhill, Ontario, quit his job and began to paint full time. Here, he found inspiration from the surrounding countryside. In the next few years his painting was to get a 'boost' as he began to travel north - first to the Georgian Bay area and then to Algonquin Park. The appeal of the North was very strong for both MacDonald and his good friend Tom Thomson. Tom Thomson and MacDonald are considered to have had tremendous impact on each other's work. After Tom Thomson's death in 1917, MacDonald suffered a physical collapse and possibly a stroke while working on the memorial cairn at Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park. He was bedridden for several months, but was well enough by the fall of 1918 to travel with Harris and Johnston on the first boxcar trip to Algoma.

In Algoma MacDonald received his greatest inspiration. For the next five years, he entered his most productive phase of painting. Algoma became known as "MacDonald's country." Here he created vital works such as Wild River. While the Group of Seven was considered to be radical for its time, at age forty-seven when the Group formed, MacDonald could hardly be referred to as a "young radical." In 1922 he began to teach at the Ontario College of Art and continued to paint. Some critics felt his painting came with more difficulty than in his earlier work and somehow with a lack of original feeling. MacDonald did however, continue to be a mainstay and stabilizing force for the members of the Group of Seven. [Adapted from Canadian Government Group of Seven Web Site]

Books from Alibris: J.E.H. MacDonald

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