Celebrating 100 Years of the Group of Seven - J.E.H. MacDonald

Posted by Tom Thomson Art Gallery | Jul 17, 2020

Thank you to our our guest blogger, the Staff from the Tom Thomson Art Gallery (The TOM), for sharing these stories and photos.

We are pleased to present the second installment in this series of guest posts celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Group of Seven. Stay tuned over the next several weeks as each member of the Group of Seven is featured.  

About the Group of Seven

On May 7, 1920, seven Canadian artists held their first exhibition as the Group of Seven at the then Art Gallery of Toronto, now the Art Gallery of Ontario. One hundred years later their names - Carmichael, Harris, Jackson, Johnston, Lismer, MacDonald, Varley - continue to conjure visions of the rugged Canadian landscape. They were bound by their desire to record the Canadian geography in a new and distinctive way. They shunned prevailing European painting conventions and honed a fresh style that has become uniquely recognizable, capturing the character of the true north, strong and free.

Featured Artist: J.E.H. MacDonald


J.E.H. MACDONALD, Lake Oesa and Mt. Lefroy, Morning Light, around 1928, oil on cardboard. Gift of the Estate of Jennings David Young, 1999.
J.E.H. MacDonald emigrated from England in 1887 to Hamilton, Ontario when he was 14 and later moved with his family to Toronto. He attended night courses and apprenticed at the Toronto Lithography Company. In 1895, he started work at Grip Limited in Toronto, eventually becoming a senior designer. By 1907, MacDonald and his young family had settled near the High Park area of Toronto where he did much of his early painting and he started exhibiting. Many of the future members of the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson worked at Grip with MacDonald. He became a member of the Ontario Society of Artists and the Arts and Letters Club in 1909-10 where he met Lawren Harris and art patron Dr. James MacCallum. MacDonald visited MacCallum’s Georgian Bay cottage many times to paint and for the next few years he travelled extensively to the Laurentians, Algonquin Park, the Maritimes and Algoma. His time in Algoma resulted in MacDonald’s most prolific period and Algoma became known as “MacDonald’s country.” MacDonald was a major force and inspiration in the formation of the Group of Seven, and was considered to be the “father” of the Group because he was the eldest.  

J.E.H. MACDONALD, Toronto Harbour, date unknown,oil on wood panel. Gift of the Estate of Jennings David Young, 1999.
MacDonald taught at the Ontario College of Art (now OCAD University), becoming Principal in 1929. MacDonald had suffered a stroke in 1917 due to overwork and the stress of good friend Tom Thomson’s death, and in 1931 he suffered another stroke which left him in poor health. His death in 1932 was a great loss to the Group of Seven, and was a contributing factor to its disbanding.
Fun Fact:  A.Y. Jackson said that MacDonald was “probably the first to dream of a school of painting in Canada that would realize the wealth of motifs we had all around us.”1
  1. Jackson, A.Y.  A Painter’s Country.  Toronto and Vancouver:  Clarke, Irwin, and Company Limited, 1976.C

The TOM's Group of Seven Exhibit

Galleries across the nation will be featuring the finest from their collections from the Group. Here at The TOM we will be showcasing the Gallery’s impressive collection, in a new exhibition, "The View from Here", that will take visitors on a visual tour across the country as experienced by the Group. Beyond the captivating artworks, our accompanying texts will explore the unique connections between the members of the Group and Owen Sound, the legacy of community donors, and the importance of the Gallery’s collection within the larger Group of Seven story. The View from Here will offer an intimate, local perspective on the artists that helped shape the Nation.  The exhibition runs until January 29, 2021.

The Tom Thomson Art Gallery Reopens to the Public on Wednesday, July 29

In order to protect the health of visitors and staff, a limited number of visitors will be permitted inside the Gallery to 10 people at a time, to allow for physical distancing. This new visitor limit may also mean that when you visit the Gallery you may be asked to wait in line. Additionally, to accommodate new cleaning and health precautions, the Gallery will be reopening with limited hours – Wednesday to Saturday, 12pm - 4pm. Please remember to be patient with staff during this time, as new protocols are being implemented to ensure the safety of everyone.
Note: All visitors are required to wear face coverings (masks) in indoor spaces, including The TOM.

An easy way to remember The TOM’s new attendance limit is “Bring Your Groups of Seven”. Throughout their time the members of the Group changed but their number always stayed below 10, so call your Carmichael, Harris, Jackson, Johnston, Lismer, MacDonald, and Varley and tell them you’re going to The TOM!

For more information about The TOM, visit their website.

Read other blog posts in the series about the Group of Seven: