Artwork by James Edward Hervey MacDonald,  Laurentian Hillside, 1913

J.E.H. MacDonald
Laurentian Hillside, 1913

oil on book binder’s board
initialed lower left; signed and inscribed “Sketch for Laurentian Hillside” on the reverse
6 x 8 ins ( 15.2 x 20.3 cms )

Auction Estimate: $30,000.00$20,000.00 - $30,000.00

Price Realized $17,250.00
Sale date: December 6th 2023

G. Blair Laing., Toronto
Egerton Brown
G.E. Brown
Acquired by the present Private Collection, March 1999
Possibly “Second Annual Exhibition of Little Pictures by Canadian Artists”, Toronto Art Galleries of the Public Reference Library, 7‒28 February 1914, no. 229 as “October Color, Laurentians”
“Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven”, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, England; travelling to National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo; Gröninger Museum, Groningen, The Netherlands, 19 October 2011‒28 October 2012, no. 85
“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
Peter Mellen, “The Group of Seven”, Toronto/Montreal, 1970, page 44
Paul Duval, “The Tangled Garden”, Scarborough, Ontario, 1978, pages 49‒52
Ian A.C. Dejardin, et al., “Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven”, London, 2011, no. 85, reproduced page 158
Ian Thom, et al., “Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver/London, 2015, reproduced page 90, caption page 202
Having worked as a graphic designer since the mid-1890s, J.E.H. MacDonald’s debut as a painter was somewhat late. He only began to exhibit paintings in 1908 at the age of thirty‒four but was encouraged by his fellow employees at Grip Limited and through his friendship with Lawren Harris, a fellow member of Toronto’s Arts and Letters Club. It was Harris who arranged MacDonald’s well‒received solo exhibition at the club in November 1911 and soon Harris became J.E.H. MacDonald’s most frequent painting companion. They sketched together on several occasions and, in the fall of 1913, they travelled to Saint Jovite in the Laurentians. From there MacDonald wrote home to his wife. “Lawren and I have done nothing but admire one fine view after another between sketches and meals. It is certainly a great country this... The colouring is very fine. The trees are well turned, and I have never seen such brilliance of colour and such masses of it. But don’t expect our sketches to show it. We have been following lamely after it, hoping to catch up to it some day.... The weather has been rather trying, very rainy, but picturesque in cloud and atmosphere. We have managed to work steadily, thanks to our umbrellas and wind shield. When the rain was on we turned the wind shield into a roof, and we were as comfortable under it as gypsies under a hedge...”

The two artists worked closely together as evidenced by Harris’ sketch, “Laurentian Landscape” (sold at Sotheby’s/Ritchies, 27 May 2003, lot 152) that has a similar open foreground, yellow-leafed trees along the water’s edge and rocky hill. An overall mauve and khaki palette is predominant in the Harris sketch, evidence of the inclement, overcast weather that MacDonald had observed. Similar weather effects are depicted in MacDonald’s sketch, “Rain, Laurentians” (National Gallery of Canada) with its bold brushwork, overcast hills and dramatic sky effects. But in this sketch for “Laurentian Hillside” MacDonald did catch up with nature’s colouring. Purple‒grey rocks and lovely green slopes define the foreground with lovely red, orange and yellow trees by the water’s edge. A birch rises from centre right to touches of blue upper right. Autumn foliage creates an arabesque across the rocky slopes of the hill echoing the orange and yellow trees below. The hill is painted in purple‒greys and greens and mists rise across the crest of the hill.

The artists painted a good number of sketches on each expedition though production was always subject to weather conditions. Only selected studies were worked up into canvases. Clearly MacDonald was so pleased with the effects captured in this sketch that he used it to develop a major canvas over the winter of 1913‒1914. The resultant canvas, “Laurentian Hillside, October” (lot 121), is being offered in this sale. MacDonald exhibited a related etching, “Autumn Weather, La Toque, Laurentians”, in the Art Museum of Toronto exhibition “Etchings by Toronto Etchers” in April 1914. Impressions of this etching are in the collections of the Art Gallery of Hamilton and the Art Gallery of Ontario.

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.