Up close and personal with J.E.H. MacDonald’s artistic practice


May 15, 2018, Kleinburg, ON – The McMichael Canadian Art Collection is pleased to announce its summer exhibition, J.E.H. MacDonald: Up Close, from June 2 to September 16. This exhibition is an unparalleled opportunity to get up close with one of Canada’s most important, and beloved, twentieth century artists—delving deep into his remarkable artistic practice. This special exhibition is the first of six Up Close shows that the McMichael has planned that will each focus on a Group of Seven member and lead up to the 100th anniversary of the Group in 2020.

James Edward Hervey MacDonald (1873-1932) was considered a co-founder of the Group of Seven and the eldest amongst the painters. Not unlike other members of the Group, trips to the Algoma region inspired some of his best work of this rugged landscape, and like Thomson, he was an advocate for the small oil sketch produced en plein air. The Algoma period (1918-1921) is of particular importance to this exhibition.

In partnership with the McMichael and the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI), a group of 32 works (21 oil sketches and 11 larger paintings) from MacDonald’s oeuvre, 12 of which were drawn from the McMichael Collection, and the remainder from the Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery of Canada, have undergone extensive scientific analysis to reveal how MacDonald went about creating his paintings. Led by McMichael Conservator Alison Douglas and CCI Senior Conservation Scientist Kate Helwig, this analysis included an examination of the material used to create the work, use of preparatory and sealing layers, choice of pigments and pigment mixtures, and aspects of his painting technique.

“J.E.H. MacDonald’s use of Post-Impressionist colours and bravura brushwork is unmatched by any other Canadian artist,” says Ian A.C. Dejardin, Executive Director, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, and curator of the show. “The gallery’s partnership with CCI has led to invaluable research that will assist conservators, curators, and art historians in making informed decisions about the future conservation of MacDonald works. It also makes for a fascinating and eye-opening display for the many visitors who simply love his paintings.”

Spanning three galleries, this exhibition will showcase 76 MacDonald canvases and sketches from the McMichael’s permanent collection, including the 12—predominately from MacDonald’s Algoma period—that were part of this major scientific study. Well-known works from this period include both the oil sketch and canvas of Leaves in the Brook (1918 and 1919), Algoma Waterfall (1920) and Forest Wilderness (1921). Examining the oil sketches under ultra violet light revealed MacDonald’s unique technique of creating a sketch before the sketch. He used thin strokes of oil paint to outline each element of his composition, most frequently using the colour red-brown to create these underdrawings. This method became a staple of MacDonald’s painting practice used in his large-scale canvas works as well.

“In conducting a comparative analysis of MacDonald’s early period works to his later ones, it becomes apparent that his technique had matured,” says Alison Douglas, Conservator, McMichael Canadian Art Collection. “In Moose Lake, Algoma (1920), for instance, complementary colour combinations are skilfully executed with directional brushstrokes, while the laboured brushstrokes of some of his early period works show the signs of a young artist learning and experimenting.”

It was also discovered that MacDonald favoured certain pigments, and rarely used black. He often blended a white pigment with two to four main colours, and then added smaller amounts of other colours. Interestingly, CCI identified many different pigments in the 12 works from the McMichael Collection, the most recurrent were different colours of blue, green, yellow, orange, red, and white.

To allow visitors to get up close and personal with the artworks, iPads will be installed in front of select paintings from the study, each containing a slideshow of the scientific imaging of that work. A short film produced by CCI, featuring Conservator Alison Douglas and CCI Senior Conservation Scientist Kate Helwig, will also be screening.

Media wishing to speak with exhibition curator Ian A.C. Dejardin, view the exhibition, or request high-resolution images of the artworks are requested to contact Daniela Travierso-Galati at [email protected] or 905.893.1121 ext. 2210.

About the McMichael Canadian Art Collection

The McMichael Canadian Art Collection is an agency of the Government of Ontario and acknowledges the support of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, and the McMichael Canadian Art Foundation. It is the foremost venue in the country showcasing the Group of Seven and their contemporaries. In addition to touring exhibitions, its permanent collection consists of over 6,500 artworks by Canadian artists, including paintings by the Group of Seven and their contemporaries, as well as First Nations, Métis and Inuit artists. The gallery is located on 100 acres of northern landscape and hiking trails at 10365 Islington Avenue, Kleinburg, north of Major Mackenzie Drive in the City of Vaughan. For more information: mcmichael.com.

*THE ART OF CANADA is an official mark of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.


Media Contacts:

Daniela Travierso-Galati

Media Relations and Communications Coordinator

McMichael Canadian Art Collection

905.893.1121 ext. 2210

[email protected]

Nick Foglia

Director, Communications, Marketing and Sales
McMichael Canadian Art Collection
905.893.1121 ext. 2265

[email protected]