Artwork by Manly Edward MacDonald,  Summer, Moira River

Manly MacDonald
Summer, Moira River

oil on canvas
signed lower right; titled on the stretcher
28 x 36 ins ( 71.1 x 91.4 cms )

Auction Estimate: $8,000.00$6,000.00 - $8,000.00

Price Realized $9,600.00
Sale date: November 22nd 2021

Private Collection, Toronto
As modernist abstraction emerged as a popular style in the 1940s and 50s in Canada, Manly MacDonald asserted himself as a Traditionalist. He was involved in controversy throughout the 1950s after he resigned from the Ontario Society of Artists in protest against the rise of modernism within the Society; he felt traditional painters were no longer being given opportunities to showcase their work, despite his own success. He became the standard-bearer for a traditional approach to landscape painting. The great irony of MacDonald’s reputation as a conservative, though, was that MacDonald did not actually adhere to the style of realism that was associated with earlier Canadian landscape painters. Like the Group of Seven, MacDonald experimented with impressionist techniques at a time when Canadian artists were attempting to break free from European molds and create a quintessentially Canadian way of painting. MacDonald’s trepidation was not toward the kind of brushstroke deployed by the modernists, but rather the content of the painting: he vehemently believed that painters should draw their inspiration from “the warm breathing world of flesh and blood and growing things.”

In “Summer, Moira River”, MacDonald’s impressionistic brush strokes and playful use of colour actually serve the purpose of adding a living element to the scene: we see the water shimmer, the leaves rustle in the wind, and the clouds blowing past behind a boy at play. The painting appears to be calmly in motion and invites us to take a warm breath of summer air. It is of “the warm breathing world” and has the timeless quality for which MacDonald always strove.

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Manly Edward MacDonald
(1889 - 1971) ARCA, OSA, OIP

Manly Edward MacDonald was born August 15, 1889 at Point Anne, Ontario. In 1902, at age thirteen, he successfully tried the high school examination in art in nearby Belleville, Ontario. In October 1908, MacDonald enrolled in the Ontario College of Art (OCA) in Toronto and at age 22, in 1911, began courses at the Albright School of Art in Buffalo, New York. 1912 and 1913 saw MacDonald continue his art studies at the prestigious Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts. From 1914 to 1916, he returned to the Ontario College of Art in Toronto and, in 1917, received his first scholarship from the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (RCA), enabling him to travel through Europe during the First World War, drawing and taking in the war effort. While in France, he married fellow OCA student, Beverly Lambe.

MacDonald was commissioned in 1918 by the Canadian War Memorials Fund and the National Gallery of Canada to paint scenes of women working in the fields in the Quinte region of Ontario. That same year he was elected a member of the Ontario Society of Artists (OSA). In 1920, Manly MacDonald became an Associate of the Royal Canadian Academy and received a second RCA Scholarship, travelling through France, Italy, Spain and Great Britain. On his return from Europe in 1922, he painted full time while his young family lived in Belleville. This was also where he held his first public exhibition. At the same time, MacDonald opened a studio on Severn Street in Toronto's Rosedale ravine area. In 1924 he exhibited at the prestigious Wembley Exhibition, Middlesex, England and showed again in 1925, at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, Middlesex, England, in the new Canadian Pavilion. By 1926, the Canadian art scene was changing as more traditional painters, like MacDonald, felt shunted aside by new ideas at Ontario Society of Artists. MacDonald's portraits were, however, considered to be the best in the OSA Exhibition at the Art Gallery of Toronto that year. In 1932, Manly MacDonald's work was recognized by his alma mater at the Albright School of Art in Buffalo, New York. His work was included in the 1936 Art Gallery of Toronto's "Pictures by Canadians" Exhibition. He also continued to exhibit at the Canadian National Exhibition, Fine Arts Canada show for many years. In 1938, the Canadian High Commissioner, Vincent Massey announced a major exhibition of Canadian art to be held at the Tate Gallery, London, England. A number of MacDonald's pieces were on display and he was included in the Canadian art exhibition at the 1939 New York World's Fair. By 1940, MacDonald began teaching at the Royal Canadian Academy, Toronto. He also taught at the Ontario College of Art (& Design) from 1943 to 1944. Also in 1944, MacDonald exhibited in the Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with the Canadian Exhibition of Contemporary Art.

Over four decades, his work was included with other prominent artists in the Coutts and then Coutts-Hallmark Canadian Christmas Card Series. He displayed his paintings at the Belleville Spring Fair in 1945, which became an annual event. In demonstrating his humble and kind character, Manly MacDonald donated a painting to the Canadian Federation of University Women's Club of Belleville and District towards a scholarship for a young woman each year. He also gave each recipient a painting. From 1946 to 1947, he again taught at the Ontario College of Art (and Design), all the while continuing to paint, exhibit and accept commissions. By 1948, he was now an Academician of the Royal Canadian Academy (ARCA). MacDonald, along with three contemporaries, resigned in protest in 1951 from the Ontario Society of Artists, in a simmering disagreement with other artists over the OSA's emphasis on what MacDonald called "creeping modernism". Although he had been an active member of OSA for over thirty years, his name was stricken from the record and remains so to this day. 1955 saw MacDonald accept a commission by the Toronto St. Clair Avenue Granite Club to paint two large winter murals. The MacDonald family bought a summer home in 1956 at the Long Reach, Bay of Quinte, south of Napanee, Ontario where he sketched and painted the pastoral landscapes of the area, as well as spoke to groups of interested people. MacDonald always had time for others, teaching incidentally to those who dropped by, or through more formal lessons. He received a commission from the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority in 1957 to commemorate the establishment of the seaway and painted seven Eastern Ontario mills. In 1958, Manly MacDonald became a founding member of the Ontario Institute of painters. (OIP). He was chosen to paint the skyline of Toronto in 1959, as a gift from the city to Queen Elizabeth II on her state visit. The commission raised the ire with more modernist artists. In 1960, Manly MacDonald mounted an exhibit at the Royal College of Art in England and for the Ontario Institute of Painters in Toronto. He returned to teach again at OCA in the 1960's before ill health forced him to stop.

This semi-impressionistic painter always saw himself as a traditionalist, but he experimented with technique, style and mediums throughout his lifetime. A plein air painter, MacDonald could as easily paint an impressionistic landscape as a traditional scene of horses ploughing a field, or sheep crossing a bridge. He painted portraits in both genres as well as in pastels and was also adept with etchings and drypoints, producing his own sets of Christmas cards. It is said that he gave away as many pieces as he sold, but there was always a sense that he would provide for his family.

MacDonald's art can be seen in major galleries across Canada, including the National Gallery of Canada and the new Canadian War Museum. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II owns two of his paintings in the Royal Collection Enterprises. The largest public collections are held by the John M. Parrott Art Gallery, housed in the new Belleville Public Library and at Loyalist College, also in Belleville. Many more remain in private hands, found in Canada and around the world, passed down through families who knew Manly MacDonald personally, or who bought them when they sold for very little.

Biography credits : Charles Beale, author of Manly E. MacDonald (1889-1971) - Interpreter of Old Ontario