Artwork by James Edward Hervey MacDonald,  A Hill Path, High Park

J.E.H. MacDonald
A Hill Path, High Park

oil on board
signed and dated 1907 lower right
10 x 8 ins ( 25.4 x 20.3 cms )

Auction Estimate: $30,000.00$20,000.00 - $30,000.00

Price Realized $27,600.00
Sale date: November 22nd 2016

Collection of Albert H. Robson
By descent to the current Private Collection, Ontario
Ontario Society of Artists, 35th Annual Exhibition, Toronto, February 23 - March 20, 1907
Paul Duval, “The Tangled Garden: The Art of J.E.H. MacDonald”, Scarborough, 1978, pages 16-20, 26, 43 and 53
“Late Albert H. Robson Praised for Services”, “Montreal Gazette”, October 7, 1939, page 10
A celebrated author, historian and former Vice President of the Art Gallery of Toronto, Albert Robson wrote numerous books devoted to Canadian art and artists, including “Canadian Landscape Painters” (1932) and a 1937 volume dedicated to J.E.H. MacDonald. A 1939 Montreal Gazette remembrance of Robson noted that his “active pen did much to stimulate interest in Canadian art.”

As the Art Director at both Grip Limited and Rous & Mann, Robson acted as supervisor to many notable Canadian artists, including members of the Group of Seven. It is thought that this artwork was likely a gift from MacDonald to Robson during that time.

Soon after honeymooning with his new wife, Harriet Joan Lavis, in 1899, MacDonald rented a small cottage on Quebec Avenue near High Park, eventually building a permanent home on the same street. While taking afternoon art classes at the Central Ontario School
of Art and Design, the artist often sketched outdoors in High Park. The area offered MacDonald acres of all manner of landscape from wooded areas, open fields and bodies of water to explore a range of artistic opportunities for the young artist in all seasons. Many of the artist’s oil sketches accomplished in this venue developed into larger canvases and was a constant artistic touchstone.

The rolling hills of the park were a prominent fixture in his works of High Park allowing the artist to examine a layered landscape rather than the flat horizons of traditional landscape art. Forced perspective positions the viewer at the base of the hill, hidden within the treeline gazing up at the picturesque landscape as the path narrows and disappears into the distance.

In this charming scene, the impact of European Impressionism can be seen in MacDonald’s handling of light and shadow with shorter brushstrokes. The long shadows cast by the wooded area, patterning the lush grass and pathway with low soft pink cloud forms signalling the late afternoon glow of an approaching sunset indicate MacDonald’s exploration into capturing atmosphere and his life-long love of cloud-effects. Importantly, there is the introduction of figures in this early work. The mother and child stroll up the path in the distance, perhaps returning home at the close of their afternoon in the park. Here, there is the suggestion of narrative, but the figures act more as an element of the landscape rather than the central focus of the composition.

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James Edward Hervey MacDonald
(1873 - 1932) Group of Seven, OSA, RCA

J.E.H. MacDonald was born in Durham, England in 1873 of Canadian parents. He took evening art classes at the Hamilton Art School as a teenager, before relocating to Toronto. In Toronto, he studied at the Central Ontario School of Art. From 1894, he worked as a graphic designer at Grip Ltd. In 1903, he sailed for England and joined Carlton Studios, a London graphic firm. On his return to Canada in 1907 he rejoined Grip and began to paint the landscape near Toronto. Around this time, Tom Thomson joined the Grip staff. Frank H. Johnston joined a short time later. These artists found that they had much in common and began going on sketching trips as a group. In 1910, he exhibited for the first time at the Royal Canadian Academy. By 1912, all the original members of the Group of Seven had met and were sketching quite regularly together. MacDonald was devastated by the accidental drowning of Tom Thomson in 1917. He designed a brass plaque to Thomson's memory which was mounted to a cairn erected at Canoe Lake. The first official Group of Seven exhibition took place in May of 1920. MacDonald accepted a teaching position at the Ontario College of Art in 1921 and was appointed as principal in 1929. He continued to go on painting trips, but his teaching responsibilities sapped his energies and he did few large canvases during this time. He died in Toronto in 1932.