Artwork by James Edward Hervey MacDonald,  Laurentian Hillside, October 1914

J.E.H. MacDonald
Laurentian Hillside, October 1914

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1914 lower right; inscribed “$850.00” on the reverse
30.25 x 40.5 ins ( 76.8 x 102.9 cms )

Auction Estimate: $350,000.00$250,000.00 - $350,000.00

Price Realized $230,000.00
Sale date: December 6th 2023

Estate of the Artist
Thoreau MacDonald, Thornhill, Ontario
Mellors Galleries, Toronto, 1939
Dominion Gallery, Montreal, April 1947
Oliver West, Qualicum, B.C., 14 October 1947
Auction, Victoria, B.C., July 1964
Rowland Webb, Esq., F.R.S.A.I.
Walter Klinkhoff Gallery, Montreal
W. Howard Wert, Montreal, circa 1966
Walter Klinkhoff Gallery, Montreal
Bram Garber Collection, Montreal
Acquired by the present Private Collection, 1994
“Thirty-sixth Annual Exhibition of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts”, Toronto Art Museum, Public Library Building, 19 November 1914, no. 132 as “Laurentian Hillside, October”
“Provincial Exhibition, Fine Art Gallery”, New Westminster, 1922, no. 53 as “Laurentian Hills, October”
“Exhibition of the Work of Tom Thomson and J.E.H. MacDonald”, Mellors Galleries, Toronto, 11‒18 February 1939, no. 4, as 30x30
“J.E.H. MacDonald Memorial Exhibition”, Dominion Gallery, Montreal, 20 November‒3 December 1947, no. 13
“J.E.H. MacDonald, R.C.A., 1873‒1932”, Art Gallery of Toronto; travelling to the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 13 November 1965‒6 February 1966, no. 18
“Le Groupe des Sept/The Group of Seven,” National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; travelling to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 19 June‒31 October 1970, no. 35
“Max Stern: The Taste of a Dealer: Works from Private Collections Acquired through the Dominion Gallery”, Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Concordia University, Montreal, 1 September‒9 October 2004, no. 75 Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, England; travelling to National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo; Groninger Museum, Groningen, The Netherlands, 19 October 2011‒28 October 2012, no. 86
“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
Margaret Fairbairn, ‘Five Canadian Artists Gain Distinctions’, “Toronto Star Weekly”, 8 March 1913
‘A Hey day of Colours’, “Canadian Courier”, XVI:26, 28 November 1914, page 14
F.B. Housser, “A Canadian Art Movement: The Story of the Group of Seven,” Toronto, 1926, page 91
E.R. Hunter, “J.E.H. MacDonald: A Biography & Catalogue of His Work”, Toronto, 1940, page 50
‘J.E.H. MacDonald's Art Shown in Wide Scope’, “The Gazette” (Montreal), 22 November 1947
Nancy Robertson, “J.E.H. MacDonald, R.C.A., 1873‒1932”, Toronto, 1965, page 24, reproduced page 53
Colin S. MacDonald, “A Dictionary of Canadian Artists”, vol. 4, Ottawa, 1967, page 983, as a Gatineau subject
Helen Bradfield, “Art Gallery of Ontario: The Canadian Collection”, Toronto, 1970, page 274
Dennis Reid, “Le Groupe des Sept/The Group of Seven”, Ottawa, 1970, pages 62‒ 63, reproduced page 63
Peter Mellen, “The Group of Seven”, Toronto/Montreal, 1970, reproduced page 44
Paul Duval, “The Tangled Garden,” Scarborough, Ontario, 1978, pages 49‒52
Jeremy Adamson, “Lawren S. Harris: Urban Scenes and Wilderness Landscapes 1906‒1930”, Toronto, 1978, page 47
Bram Garber, “A Collector's Choice of Canadian Art: The Bram Garber Collection,” Montreal, 1981, reproduced page 19
David Silcox, “The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson”, 2003 (and 2011), reproduced page 188
“Max Stern: Montreal Dealer and Patron”, Montreal, 2004, reproduced page 37, caption page 91
Ian A.C. Dejardin, et al., “Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven”, London, 2011, reproduced page 159
Ian Thom, et al., “Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven,” Vancouver /London, 2015, reproduced page 91, caption page 202
‘Lawren Stewart Harris, 'Laurentian Landscape’,’ “Heffel Fine Canadian Art Auction”, 25 May 2016, lot 142, pages 62‒65, reproduced page 65
J.E.H. MacDonald began his career as a graphic designer, working for Grip Limited in Toronto, then moved to London, England in 1903 to work for Carlton Studios, a design firm established by former members of the Toronto Art League. In 1907 he returned to Grip where he met Albert Robson, Tom Thomson, Frank Johnston, and Arthur Lismer. The artists were encouraged to sketch on weekends in the country surrounding Toronto and MacDonald was soon exhibiting landscapes in the annual exhibitions of the various societies. His first subjects were sketched around his home near High Park and the Humber Valley, in what was then Toronto Junction, and in 1909 he painted at Burks Falls and on the Magnetawan River.

MacDonald had associated with Toronto’s Arts and Letters Club from its establishment in March 1908; however, possibly for financial reasons, he only became a member in February 1911. The Arts and Letters Club provided MacDonald with new associates and it was there that he met Lawren Harris, chairman of the club’s picture committee during the winter of 1911‒1912. In November Harris arranged for an exhibition of MacDonald’s paintings, an exhibition that was enthusiastically reviewed by C.W. Jefferys in the December 1911 issue of the club’s publication, “The Lamps”. Spurred by a greater ambition to paint, MacDonald left Grip in late 1911.

Lawren Harris was MacDonald’s closest painting companion during these years. They sketched together on the Toronto waterfront during the winter of 1911‒1912 and painted together at Mattawa (spring 1912 and 1913), on the Magnetawan River (fall 1912) and at Saint Jovite in the Laurentians in the fall of 1913. In January 1913 they had travelled to Buffalo to see an exhibition of Scandinavian art that proved to be a catalyst for the burgeoning movement that would become the Group of Seven. Increased production was met with greater exhibiting opportunities. MacDonald’s career as a painter was launched and the development in his work was noted by Margaret Fairbairn in Toronto’s “Star Weekly”. "When Mr. J.E.H. MacDonald, A.R.C.A. of Toronto first exhibited, his subjects were invariably low‒toned effects of night, moonlight on snow or twilight and they attracted the attention of knowing ones by their discriminating appreciation of tone. They were little harmonies and symphonies. The canvases were small, but the feeling shown was not. His choice of these subjects, he avers, was not because of any decided predilection for them, but because he happened to have more and better opportunities to study the nuances of twilight, of night, than anything else. Of late he has been experimenting with the atmospheric effects of dazzling sun and snow, an added impetus being the wonderful paintings of a Scandinavian artist shown at Buffalo."

MacDonald was entranced by the Laurentian landscape and, from Saint Jovite, 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.”

Two very different canvases resulted from this trip. “October Afternoon, Laurentians” (TD Corporate Art Collection) is a panoramic view of a Laurentian valley. The foreground rises left and right, dipping in the centre to reveal an open, almost empty field in the centre. In the distance are low, sketchily‒brushed hills under a vast sky. It is a minimalist composition compared to “Laurentian Hillside, October” with its animated and emphatically broken brushwork and delicate range of tones. It was referred to as a “Persian rug effect” by the writer, probably Augustus Bridle, in the Canadian Courier, when the painting was exhibited with the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.

The canvas rather closely follows the oil sketch MacDonald had painted in October 1913 (lot 122). The curves of the foreground draw the eye from lower left to centre right, like a proscenium to the massive hill beyond. The brushwork is further enhanced and is more vigorous and definite than in the oil sketch. The birch at the right is more defined and the colour in the far hill is more diffuse. The touch of blue in the upper right of the sketch is incorporated into the overall mauve tonality of the hill. The most notable differences between the sketch and canvas are the addition of the blue‒doored white cabin by the shoreline and the farmer with brown and white horses pulling the plough in the middle ground. As heir to the concerns of the members of the Toronto Art Students League, MacDonald retained an interest in the human presence and agricultural development of an earlier generation.

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.

Share this item with your friends

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.