Jul 9, 2024

Summer views with J.E.H. MacDonald

Explore scenic works by Group of Seven’s J.E.H. MacDonald from the AGO’s Collection of Canadian Art

oil painting of The Little Falls

J.E.H. MacDonald. The Little Falls, 1918. Oil on composite wood-pulp board, Overall: 21.6 x 26.7 cm. Art Gallery of Ontario. Purchase, 1933. Photo © AGO. 210

The summer heat has arrived. What better way to cool off than to visit a rumbling waterfall surrounded by trees and greenery? From the AGO’s Collection of Canadian Art, we are spotlighting landscape works by Group of Seven member J.E.H. MacDonald (1873-1932) – all featuring the element of water. 

A founding member of the Group of Seven, J.E.H. MacDonald was born in Durham, England in 1873 and immigrated to Canada in 1887 with his English mother and Canadian father. He was one of the best-trained artists in the group, having studied at the Hamilton Art School and the Central Ontario School of Art and Design in Toronto. While pursuing his art education, MacDonald worked as a graphic designer for the firm Grip before dedicating himself fully to painting in 1911. He eventually joined the Toronto-based Arts and Letters Club in 1911, and along with six other artists, he formed the Group of Seven in 1920. The group of painters aimed to promote a distinctive style of art. Believing that the style can be developed through contact with nature, the group is best known for its paintings inspired by the landscapes in Canada and having initiated the first major national art movement in Canada. 

MacDonald's paintings, primarily in oil, are characterized by an impressionistic style with bold colours, strong lines, and a profound connection to the Canadian wilderness. A portion of his paintings were made on trips to Georgian Bay, Algoma District in Northern Ontario, and the Rockies. Georgian Bay lies in territories governed by both the Williams Treaties (1923) and the Robinson-Huron Treaty (1850). Algoma District in Northern Ontario lies in the territories governed by both the Robinson-Huron Treaty (1850) and the Robinson-Superior Treaty (1850. The Rocky Mountains lies in Treaties 6 (1871-1877), 7 (1877), and 8 (1899). 

Here are some works by MacDonald depicting nature landscapes with flowing waterfalls painted during his scenic excursions.  

oil painting of a waterfall at Agawa River, Algoma

J.E.H. MacDonald. Waterfall, Agawa River, Algoma, c. 1919. Oil on board, Overall: 21.6 x 26.7 cm. Art Gallery of Ontario. Purchase, 1933. Photo © Art Gallery of Ontario. 2105

oil painting of the Montreal River

J.E.H. MacDonald. Falls, Montreal River, 1920. oil on canvas, Overall: 121.9 x 153 cm. Art Gallery of Ontario. Purchase, 1933. Photo © AGO. 2109

oil painting of a waterfall near Lake O'Hara

J.E.H. MacDonald. Waterfall near Lake O'Hara, 1929. Oil on multi-ply paperboard, 21.5 x 26.7 cm. Art Gallery of Ontario. Gift of the Students' Club, Ontario College of Art, Toronto, 1933. Photo © AGO. 2114

You can view these landscape works and more by J.E.H MacDonald at the AGO on Level 2 as part of the Thomson Collection of Canadian Art.

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