LOT 103

1873 - 1932

In a Garden
oil on board
on verso signed, titled and titled Roche's Point, L. Simcoe, dated "probably 1920" by Thoreau MacDonald, inscribed with the Roberts Gallery inventory #7245s / "C460" (twice) / "MS" / "Tho 34" / "15" (circled) and certified by Thoreau MacDonald, May 1962 and with the estate stamp
8 1/2 x 10 1/2 in 21.6 x 26.7 cm

Estimate: $60,000 - $80,000

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

Roberts Gallery, Toronto
Collection of S. Medelson, Toronto
Acquired from the above by the present Private Collection, Toronto, 1981

Nancy E. Robertson, J.E.H. MacDonald, R.C.A., 1873 - 1932, Art Gallery of Toronto and National Gallery of Canada, 1965, page 7
Paul Duval, The Tangled Garden: The Art of J.E.H. MacDonald, 1978, page 56

J.E.H. MacDonald immigrated to Canada from England with his family in 1887. He began his illustrious design career in 1889, apprenticing with the Toronto Lithography Company; later he moved to Grip Limited. His design work was influenced by Art Nouveau and its sinuous lines and use of patterning to depict the natural world. After traveling to England in 1903 to work as a designer for Carleton Studios, he returned to Toronto in 1907. It was then that he began to emerge as a serious artist.

Back with Grip Limited, he met many of the artists who would form the Group of Seven, and he painted on weekends and in the evenings. In 1911, encouraged by Lawren Harris and Group benefactor Dr. James MacCallum, he left Grip to devote himself to painting. For the next 10 years, he would work only sporadically as a freelance designer, but he would always remain sensitive to the elements of design he perceived in nature.

MacDonald was interested in the writing of American poets Henry Thoreau and Walt Whitman, whose responses to nature mirrored his own. He expressed his beliefs in a 1929 lecture titled “The Relation of Poetry to Painting with Special Reference to Canadian Painting”: “We perceive with the soul, we express with the body. Realistic pictures then are no more art than stock reports…A picture is a perfected enclosure of space seen with heightened vision.”

A pivotal experience occurred when MacDonald and Harris traveled to Buffalo in 1913 to see a large exhibition of Scandinavian paintings. The work of painters like Gustav Fjaestad struck a chord, as they depicted the raw landscapes of their northern countries in a way in which the Group sought to do. In the 1965 Art Gallery of Toronto catalogue for MacDonald’s retrospective, Nancy Robertson suggested that MacDonald’s famous canvas from 1916, The Tangled Garden, can be traced back to Scandinavian tapestry, and that both share the influence of Art Nouveau and the school of William Morris. The Tangled Garden was based on MacDonald’s flower garden in Thornhill, Ontario (he was known to be fond of gardening), and it caused a sensation in the Toronto art world when it was shown in spring of 1916 at the Ontario Society of Artists exhibition. With its extravagant colour palette and profusion of form, it was sensual, with a jungle-like wildness, and some critics found it crude and chaotic. Now it is perceived as a MacDonald masterpiece.

MacDonald continued his explorations of the Canadian landscape, most notably during the Group’s boxcar trips to Algoma, which he was a part of in spring of 1918, autumn of 1919 and 1920. Algoma was a special place to MacDonald - there he found his spiritual home, and his painting evolved; he did extraordinary work there.

After MacDonald’s last trip to Algoma in 1920, for the next few years he stayed with old friends in the summer, sketching the surrounding countryside and subjects close at hand. This oil was painted in the lovely flower garden of Mr. and Mrs. William Hamilton, who owned a cottage on Roches Point at Lake Simcoe. This gorgeous sketch shows MacDonald’s progression after his years of painting with the Group in Algoma. It is less stylized than The Tangled Garden and more painterly, and MacDonald’s brushwork is fluid and expressive. Lush strokes of green sketch in the trees, grass and cultivated foliage, while above hover the flowers, depicted with daubs of pink, red, blue and purple. We read them as flowers. but they are painted as abstracted circles and vertical strokes of colour.

MacDonald eschews realism in favour of the impression of lush growth and sunlight, which rakes across the scene and lights the trees at the back. In a Garden exudes a feeling of warmth - the hot, sunny day seems perfectly expressed in the lushness of colour and paint. This is a masterful and modern work that shows how far MacDonald had come in his treatment of his subject and expresses perfectly what he would declare nine years later - that “a picture is a perfected enclosure of space seen with heightened vision.”

Estimate: $60,000 - $80,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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