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Born in Durham, England, J.E.H. MacDonald emigrated to Canada in 1887 with his English mother and Canadian father. He studied at the Hamilton Art School and the Central Ontario School of Art and Design, in Toronto. MacDonald worked at Grip Ltd. from 1895 to 1911, when Lawren Harris persuaded him to start painting full time. In 1922, MacDonald accepted a full-time teaching position at the Ontario College of Art.
His fellow artists described him as a quiet redhead of frail stature, with the dreamy air of a poet and philosopher – a “romantic.” On sketching trips, when MacDonald was not drawing, he was forever engrossed in a book. Among MacDonald’s most accomplished works are rugged landscapes of the Algoma, Ontario, region. MacDonald was also a writer – a volume of his poetry, West by East, was published posthumously.