Artwork by James Edward Hervey MacDonald,  Cedars, Little Turtle Lake, 1922

J.E.H. MacDonald
Cedars, Little Turtle Lake, 1922

oil on wood-pulp board
signed, titled and inscribed “Studio Building, 25 Severn St.” on the reverse
8.5 x 10.5 ins ( 21.6 x 26.7 cms )

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

Price Realized $204,000.00
Sale date: June 8th 2023

R.A. Laidlaw, Toronto
Acquired by the present Private Collection, March 1981
“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. 59, as “circa” 1919
“Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver Art Gallery; travelling to the Glenbow Museum, Calgary; Art Gallery of Hamilton, 29 October 2015‒5 September 2016, as “circa” 1919
L.S. Harris, ‘The Group of Seven in Canadian History’, “The Canadian Historical Association, Report of the Annual Meeting Held at Victoria and Vancouver”, June 16-19, 1948, Toronto, 1948, page 34
Nancy Robertson, “J.E.H. MacDonald, R.C.A, 1873-1932”, Toronto, 1965, page 53, no. 81
Paul Duval, “The Tangled Garden: The Art of J.E.H. MacDonald”, Scarborough, 1978, pages 141-142
Dennis Reid, “Collector’s Canada: Selections from a Toronto Private Collection”, Toronto, 1988, no. 59, reproduced page 60 as “circa” 1919 David Milne Jr. and David P. Silcox, “David B. Milne: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings”, Toronto, 1998, vol. II, pages 732-734
Ian Thom, et al., “Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver/London, 2015, page 200, reproduced page 92, caption page 202 as “circa” 1919
In a talk given to the Canadian Historical Association in 1948, Lawren Harris observed, “We found … that there was a wild richness and clarity of colour in the Algoma woods which made the colour in southern Ontario seem grey and subdued.” This “wild richness and clarity of colour” is especially evident in the oil sketches J.E.H. MacDonald painted in Algoma from 1918 to 1920 and in the resultant canvases he worked on into 1922. This superb sketch has all the vivid colour of his oil sketch On “Montreal Lake, Algoma” of 1919 sold as lot 118 at Cowley-Abbott on 1 December 2022. But this was not painted in Algoma but on Little Turtle Lake on the Gull River, north of Coboconk in Haliburton. David Milne would also paint there in the fall of 1940. As noted by Paul Duval, at Coboconk MacDonald visited an old colleague from Grip Ltd., Fred Peel, who owned a lumber mill and cottage in the area. He first painted on the Gull River as early as 1911 as evidenced by dated sketches, such as the charming “Logs on Gull River” (sold Sotheby’s Canada-Ritchie’s, 30 May 2005, lot 32). That painting is probably the work titled “Logs in the River” that MacDonald exhibited at the Canadian National Exhibition late August 1911 together with “Summer Clouds, Little Turtle Lake” and “Moonlight, Gull River”.

While MacDonald had been able to paint in October in Algoma from 1918 to 1920, he was appointed instructor in decorative art and commercial design at the Ontario College of Art in the fall of 1921. Given his teaching commitments, sketching expeditions were now limited to summers. He returned to Little Turtle Lake during the summers of 1921, 1922 and 1923, as evidenced by oil sketches dated and titled by the artist; however a sketch included in the 1965 MacDonald retrospective exhibition, titled and dated by the artist “Birches in Autumn, Gull River, Coboconk” 1922 (catalogue no. 81, private collection), confirms an autumn visit, which would explain the autumnal colours evident in “Cedars, Little Turtle Lake”.

In this remarkable jewel of a sketch, the cedar’s branches extend over the water, creating a complex linear pattern framing the autumn foliage. The leaves range from dark greens and browns upper left to the contrasting bright oranges, pale greens and deep reds that reach across to the autumn foliage on the far shore. The smoothly brushed water glistens with blues, pinks and whites. “Cedars, Little Turtle Lake” was definitely painted with memories of autumn in Algoma.

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.