Artwork by James Williamson Galloway Macdonald,  Daybreak (Modality Series)

Jock Macdonald
Daybreak (Modality Series)

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1936 lower left; signed and titled on the reverse; signed, titled and inscribed “May Morning” on the stretcher
21.75 x 17.5 ins ( 55.2 x 44.5 cms )

Auction Estimate: $90,000.00$70,000.00 - $90,000.00

Price Realized $69,000.00
Sale date: November 22nd 2016

Private Collection, British Columbia
“B.C. Society of Fine Arts,” Vancouver Art Gallery, April 29 – May 15, 1938
“Jock Macdonald, Evolving Form,” Vancouver Art Gallery, October 18, 2014 – January 4, 2015, travelling to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, 2015
Michelle Jacques (ed.) and Ian Thom (ed.), “Jock Macdonald, Evolving Form,” Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, 2014, reproduced page 23
Roald Nasgaard, “Abstract Painting in Canada,” Toronto/Vancouver, 2007, page 41
Ian Thom, “ ‘The Early Work: An Artist Emerges’, Jock Macdonald, Evolving Form,” Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, 2014, pages 23-24
Joyce Zemans, “Jock Macdonald: the inner landscape/a retrospective exhibition,” Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 1981, pages 81, 83 and 86
Jock Macdonald focused on his semi-abstracts, which he called “Modalities”, during the late 1930s. The artist claimed that his Modalities were of “a deeper value” to him than his landscapes at the time. He described these works: “[I] put down in paint, in a concrete form, my feelings about the sea, wind, rain, etc. - feelings which had nothing to do with visual effects of the seas, windstorms and rainstorms. The feelings must have been something similar to those which brought Cezanne to the awareness that ‘the life and energy of a tree does not end at the visual limitation of the tree’s silhouette form.’”

Macdonald painted “Daybreak” while residing in Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island. Ian Thom discusses this important canvas: “The whole work shimmers with energy and it is unclear if we are looking at ocean or sky. Brilliant yellows and oranges mark the divisions between darkness and light, and strange triangular shapes appear within the dark section. At the top left of the canvas is the orb of the sun, surrounded by a halo of clouds. Clearly Macdonald is creating a view of nature that can be seen by the imagination rather than the eye... ‘Daybreak’ reveals his rich visual imagination and remarkable ability to transcend the enormous difficulties that he and his family faced while in this remote region of British Columbia.” The artist’s eighteen month stay at Nootka was truly a fantastic stimulant for his work.

This work was exhibited by the artist at the Vancouver Art Gallery in April 1938 with three other Modalities. These celebrated paintings reveal how Macdonald truly “sought to explore, through material means, the immaterial aspects of nature.”

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James Williamson Galloway Macdonald
(1897 - 1960) Painters Eleven, Canadian Group of Painters,

Jock Macdonald was born on May 31, 1897 in Thurso, Scotland. A graduate of the Edinburgh College of Art, Macdonald emigrated to Canada in 1927 to become head of design and instructor in commercial advertising at the newly established Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts (now the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design). Inspired by the natural environment, Macdonald and his colleague Frederick Varley, head of drawing, painting, and composition, spent much of their free time on weekends and summer vacations on sketching and camping trips in the Garibaldi Mountains. When the Depression forced severe salary cuts in the art school budget, Macdonald and Varley decided to found the B.C. College of Art. It quickly established a reputation as a centre of new and stimulating ideas in a variety of art forms including music, dance and photography as well as the visual arts. The school operated for two years before declaring bankruptcy, but its influence on the local cultural community of the period is now legendary. Macdonald himself was infected by the exciting ideas fostered at the College and he began experiments in abstraction. He soon found landscape painting in the tradition of his Group of Seven contemporaries too confining whereas abstraction opened up new vistas of expressive freedom. During his twenty years in B.C., Macdonald was active as artist, teacher, exhibitor, and arts organizer. He was a member of the B.C. Society of Artists, with whom he exhibited regularly; a charter member of the Federation of Canadian Artists; and a member of the Vancouver Art Gallery Council for eleven years, serving on its judging, exhibitions and hanging committees, and implementing its popular Saturday morning classes. The Vancouver Art Gallery accorded Macdonald his first one man show in May 1941 and five years later mounted a solo exhibition, of his "automatic" watercolours. Macdonald moved to Toronto in 1947 and became instructor of painting at the Ontario College of Art. In 1953 he was instrumental in the founding of Painters Eleven, a group dedicated to the promotion of abstract art. He wrote later: "In training young students I believe it absolutely necessary that the student be provided a program of study which forces him to observe nature very closely in many diverse directions. After some two years of such study I encourage the student to expand his inner self and begin to expand his personality. I am quite aware that the young student is often intuitively aware of his consciousness of the twentieth century and could create in modern ways but I believe that every student should, first of all, increase his vocabulary of form and colours by observing nature forms and be initiated into the laws of balance and dynamic equilibrium." Jock Macdonald died at the age of 63 on December 3, 1960.