Artwork by James Edward Hervey MacDonald,  Morning Sunshine, 1926

J.E.H. MacDonald
Morning Sunshine, 1926

oil on wood-pulp board
signed, titled and inscribed “Thornhill June 1926” on the reverse; with monogram “JM”, also certified by Thoreau MacDonald on a label
8.5 x 10.5 ins ( 21.6 x 26.7 cms )

Auction Estimate: $70,000.00$50,000.00 - $70,000.00

Price Realized $52,800.00
Sale date: June 8th 2023

Mr. and Mrs. A. Crawford Kenny, Toronto
Mrs. A.C. Kenny, Toronto
Framing Gallery, Toronto
Acquired by the present Private Collection, 1969
“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. 60
‘Home Truths’, The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa; travelling to Mississauga Living Arts Centre; Rodman Hall, St. Catharines, 4 September 1997‒22 February 1998
“The Thornhill Circle: J.E.H. MacDonald and his Associates”, Varley Art Gallery, Markham, 26 November 2006‒14 January 2007 as “Morning Sun (The Artist’s Wife)”
J.E.H. MacDonald, Thornhill to E.R. Greig, Art Museum of Toronto, 21 July 1915 in Art Museum of Toronto Letters 1912-1920, A3.9.5,
in Edward P. Taylor Library and Archives, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
Thoreau MacDonald, Thornhill to Doris Mills, 2 August 1923, in Doris Speirs Collection, MS Coll 00319, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto
Rental payments 8 June 1925 to 27 March 1926, in Mary Bishop Rodrick and Franz Johnston Collection, vol.1, file 36 Financial 1923- 1925, R320, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa
F.H. Johnston, Thornhill to H.O. McCurry, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 17 February 1926, in 5.5-Annual Exhibition of Canadian Art 1926, Library and Archives of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Dennis Reid, “Collector’s Canada Selections from a Toronto Private Collection”, Toronto, 1988, no. 60, reproduced page 60
‘Chronology’, in Robert Stacey and Hunter Bishop, “J.E.H. MacDonald Designer: An Anthology of Graphic Design, Illustration and Lettering”, Ottawa, 1996, pages 115-126
Joan Murray, “Home Truths”, Toronto, 1997, plate 25, reproduced page 45
John Sabean, “A Boy All Spirit: Thoreau MacDonald in the 1920s”, Penumbra Press, 2002, pages 19-22, 173, 258 note 12
Stantec Consultants, “Untangling the Tangled Garden Historical Research of the Thoreau MacDonald Property 121 Centre Street”, Thornhill, City of Vaughan, Markham, 2004
Christopher Jackson, “The Thornhill Circle: J.E.H. MacDonald and his Associates”, Markham, 2006, page 35, reproduced page 17
J.E.H. MacDonald’s house at Thornhill, then a small farming village north of Toronto, is intimately associated with his career and fame as an artist. For it was behind this house that MacDonald painted the studies for his famous painting, “A Tangled Garden”, the painting that became a focus of journalistic rebuke when shown in the 1916 exhibition of the Ontario Society of Artists. The painting and the resultant debates have rightly been seen as landmarks in the history of the future Group of Seven. By extension the house has also been intimately linked to the Group’s story.

Born in Durham, England in 1873 of a Canadian father and English mother, J.E.H. MacDonald came to Canada with his family in 1887. In 1899 he married Joan Lavis and the couple, and their son Thoreau, born in 1901, first lived on Quebec Avenue, and then Conduit Street, north of High Park in what was then known as Toronto Junction. The family moved to Thornhill in 1913 renting a house on Centre Street from fellow artist Eugene Beaupré. When Beaupré moved back to Thornhill the following year, MacDonald paid the deposit for the purchase of a farm of four acres with a frame house and barns and outbuildings on the south side of Centre Street, hoping to sell his Conduit Street property to raise the required funds. “Then the war came. There was no opportunity to sell the city property, no commercial designing was wanted & my capital has gradually dwindled, until the bottom of the bin is only too plainly visible. During the past year I have been able to make about 12.00 per week,” he wrote in his appeal to the Art Museum of Toronto for assistance with selling the city house. “The Thornhill place will not be such a drain this year, as Lismer is living with me cooperatively & we are working part of the place ourselves the rest of it being rented to a farmer.” A photograph of Joan MacDonald, Esther and Marjorie Lismer with Thoreau and his bicycle in the background was taken that summer. The Lismers found another house to rent on John Street in Thornhill in September 1915, just as MacDonald painted the oil sketch of luxuriant flowers against the stable wall that would result in the painting “The Tangled Garden”.

The farm continued to be a financial burden, and in November 1917, it was rented out and the MacDonald family moved to York Mills, where MacDonald suffered a physical breakdown. By 1923 the family was back in Thornhill though it was rented to Frank Johnston and his family from June 1925 to March 1926. Johnston wrote to the National Gallery of Canada from Thornhill on 17 February 1926 complaining about the rejection of his painting “One Fine Day” and the Gallery’s purchase of Arthur Lismer’s “September Gale”. By June 1926 the MacDonald family had moved back to the farm they called Four Elms.

J.E.H. MacDonald’s painting of his wife Joan in the backyard of the farmhouse may be a celebration of the family’s return to Thornhill. Wearing a yellow straw hat with a white shawl or blanket over her knees, Joan MacDonald sits in her rocking chair reading. Thoreau’s delivery in 1901 had been difficult and she was a partial invalid for most of her long life. An empty chair awaits her companion, possibly the artist painting her. The figure, chairs, garden foliage, window and shadows on the wall of the frame house are broadly painted in a palette of sunlight. Morning Sunshine is an affectionate tribute to the artist’s wife and to the home that played such an important role in their lives.

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.