J.E.H. MacDonald R.C.A.
Mt. Odaray, Lake O’Hara Area, 1929
Sketch for Lichened Rocks, Mountain Majesty, in the University College Art Collection, University of Toronto Art Centre.
Thoreau MacDonald, Toronto;
Private collection, Prince George;
Masters Gallery, Calgary;
Private collection, Tennessee
This remarkable sketch relates directly to one of J.E.H. MacDonald’s most important Lake O’Hara canvases, Lichened Rocks, Mountain Majesty, in the University College Art Collection, University of Toronto Art Centre. That the canvas dates to 1928 and the sketch comes from 1929 is not unusual, as MacDonald had several haunts at Lake O’Hara, places that he would return to frequently, having found what he felt to be one of the most important things in landscape painting – a comfortable place to sit.
Set from the same high-up vantage point looking at Mount Odaray and Deception Peak, with the same near-ground attention to the map and crust lichens that grow everywhere at this elevation,
MacDonald has focused the large rock that occupies the centre of the scene. The small, triangular form in the space between the near-ground rock and Deception Peak on the right is the Swiss Guides
Monument. In the canvas, it is quite clear that the lichen-dotted feature in the near-ground is a point of rock, rather than a distant peak, as it seems to be in the sketch. A comparison of the two makes it clear where MacDonald was going with this sketch. The intent of the study was, as MacDonald taught his students, to capture the idea. “Try to have an idea in your sketch as well as a view” he wrote in his lecture notes, “…profile is the limit of a solid mass, even though that solidity has the different qualities of cloud and rock. Design from nature rather than copy her. You will find a general trail in the lines and masses under varying details… Trees grow and clouds float but Art has a world of her own where
science is not so absolute.”