Artwork by James Edward Hervey MacDonald,  On Montreal Lake, Algoma

J.E.H. MacDonald
On Montreal Lake, Algoma

oil on board
signed, titled and inscribed “October 1919” and “To Lillian Edie, Wishing Her a Happy New Year, 1929” on the reverse
8.5 x 10.5 ins ( 21.6 x 26.7 cms )

Auction Estimate: $100,000.00$80,000.00 - $100,000.00

Price Realized $288,000.00
Sale date: December 1st 2022

Gift of the artist to Lillian Eadie (later Lightfoot), 1929
Ron MacDonald, Woodridge, Ontario, 1964
Acquired by the present Private Collection, circa 1970
“J.E.H. MacDonald, R.C.A., 1873‒1932”, Art Gallery of Toronto; travelling to National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 13 November 1965‒6 February 1966, no. 76
“Collector’s Canada: Selections from a Toronto Private Collection”, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; travelling to Musée du Québec, Quebec City; Vancouver Art Gallery; Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, 14 May 1988‒7 May 1989, no. 58
“Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver Art Gallery; travelling to the Glenbow Museum, Calgary; Art Gallery of Hamilton, 30 October 2015‒25 September 2016
J.E.H. MacDonald, ‘A.C.R. 10557’, “The Lamps”, December 1919, pages 33‒39
Nancy Robertson, “J.E.H. MacDonald, R.C.A., 1873‒1932”, Toronto, 1965, reproduced page 52
Dennis Reid, “Collector’s Canada: Selections from a Toronto Private Collection”, Toronto, 1988, no. 58, page 3, reproduced page 59
Ian Thom, et al., “Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver/London, 2015, pages 86, 202, reproduced page 93
Some of J.E.H. MacDonald’s most important and iconic paintings were inspired by the landscapes of Algoma, north of Sault Sainte Marie. “The Beaver Dam” (1919), “Falls, Montreal River” (1920) and “Mist Fantasy” (1922) (Art Gallery of Ontario), “Leaves in the Brook” (1919) and “Forest Wilderness” (1921) (McMichael Canadian Art Collection), “The Solemn Land” (1921) and “Gleams on the Hills” (1921) (National Gallery of Canada), “The Wild River” (1919) (Faculty Club, University of Toronto) and “October Shower Gleam” (1922) (Hart House, University of Toronto), and others, all reflect MacDonald’s deep engagement with the colours, forms and moods of Algoma.

Lawren Harris first visited the Algoma region in the spring of 1918 with Dr. James MacCallum and the two returned with Frank Johnston and MacDonald that September. An exhibition of the resultant oil sketches and canvases was held at the Art Museum of Toronto from 26 April to 19 May 1919. The paintings were arranged in the sequence of their painting, from Canyon to Hubert to the Montreal Falls and Batchawana.

Harris, Johnston and MacDonald returned to Algoma from mid‒ September to mid‒October 1919, this time accompanied by A.Y. Jackson. They once again travelled in a boxcar hitched to a train of the Algoma Central Railway. The boxcar would be left on a siding at their request, then picked up on the train’s return trip and dropped off at a new site. This year they travelled to the Agawa Canyon, Canyon, Hubert, the Montreal Falls and Batchawana, making side trips from the railway in a canoe or on a handcar (or “pede”). From a siding at Hubert, Jackson wrote to his cousin Florence Clement on 29 September (N.J. Groves fonds, Library and Archives Canada). “The color is disappearing very fast. The reds were gorgeous when we first came, but now it is all orange and yellow” and on 9 October Harris wrote to Dr. MacCallum from Bathchawana (MacCallum fonds, National Gallery of Canada), “We will be here for the rest of trip – leaves all gone – The color was at its best the first week and there have been no reds since – Yellows lasted much longer.”

MacDonald recounted his experience in an article published in the Arts and Letters Club periodical, “The Lamps”, in December 1919. “In this land of color we must note the fitness of the bright toy vermilion of the new “pede”, and the deep faded crimson of the canoe against the dark water. Sketching kits and umbrellas are loaded on the cross bar and tail board of the “pede,” and ... the little machine soon goes ringing down the track until some attractive composition of spruce tops or rock and maple calls for sketching. The canoeists are off down the river on a similar quest, gliding through the yellow floating leaves, and breaking the still reflections of crimson and gold and green with waving streamers of sky color, until they land where the silent Agawa wakes in a long rapid. ... Every day advanced the passing of the leaf, and soon our painters had to go in quest of the desirable “spot of red.” ... Birch woods, that were dense yellow in the morning, were open grey by night. But the wild cherry leaves still hung as though the high fifes and violins were to finish the great concert of color. They were another of the notable little graces of the bush, daintily hung in every shade from palest yellow to deep crimson against the big blue‒gold hills of the Montreal Valley.”

Among the canvases MacDonald exhibited with the Royal Canadian Academy that November was “The Beaver Dam” (Art Gallery of Ontario, 840). In response to the 1965 MacDonald exhibition catalogue, Jackson wrote to Thoreau MacDonald on 22 January 1966 (Thoreau MacDonald fonds, Library & Archives Canada), “The Beaver Dam was painted on Montreal Lake. I paddled your dad down to it.” Dense foliage characterizes this canvas and all the sketches MacDonald painted on Montreal Lake, the source of the Montreal River, that October. Contradicting Jackson’s and Harris’s observations, the reds have not yet disappeared. Through a dense wall of reds, oranges, yellows and greens on blue‒grey trunks and branches, one glimpses the blue water and darker hills on the far shore. MacDonald’s Algoma is a land of lush foliage, vibrant colour and constant discovery.

We extend our thanks to Charles Hill, Canadian art historian, former Curator of Canadian Art at the National Gallery of Canada and author of “The Group of Seven – Art for a Nation”, for his assistance in researching this artwork and for contributing the preceding essay.

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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.