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Canadian Painter Manley MacDonald (1889-1971) Early Painting 1920’s


Artist: Manley E. Macdonald

Origin: Canadian

Size: 9″ x 12″

Oil on Canva

Manly Edward MacDonald (1889 – 1971) was a Canadian semi-impressionistic painter who was born in Point Anne, close to Belleville, Ontario. He was the son of William MacDonald, a farmer and fisherman who emigrated to Canada from England. His work captured and recorded rural Ontario practices such as ploughing, cutting ice, collecting sap, logging and fishing. He is particularly renowned for his depictions of working horses in flowing motion, streams and gristmills. MacDonald also painted landscapes and many portraits of family and local dignitaries.

While most of his work is oil-on-board or oil-on-canvas, he also worked in pastels and various etching methods. At the age of 19, MacDonald was enrolled at the Ontario College of Art (OCA), later the Ontario College of Art & design (OCAD). He also took courses at the Albright School of Art in Buffalo, New York and the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Late in life, MacDonald was an active member of the Ontario Society of Artists (OSA) and the Royal Canadian Academy (RCA).

Although MacDonald was a reserved family man, he was embroiled in controversy over traditionalist vs modernist styles. This ultimately led him and three fellow OSA members to resign from the OSA on the basis that it was being dominated by modernists and not fulfilling its role of encouraging fine arts in Ontario.[1] On the other hand, Modernists such as Graham Coughtry complained that “every damn tree in the country has been painted.”[2]

Towards the end of the First World War, MacDonald was commissioned to paint scenes to document Canada’s war effort. The Women in War Series illustrates how women left their traditional roles to support the gathering of food while men were away at war. Macdonald’s land girls hoeing is part of the collection at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario. Another important commission for MacDonald was a 1959 painting of the Toronto skyline that was the city of Toronto’s gift to Queen Elizabeth II. The traditionalist vs modernist tensions continued with MacDonald’s style of painting described by the OSA as an insult to Her Majesty. However the same painting, now part of the Queen’s Royal Collection at Sandringham, was described by MacDonald as “sane” and one which the Queen would understand.[3] MacDonald continued to paint until his very last days. He died on 10 April 1971 having completed about 2000 works. Many of his works are on display in national and provincial galleries with large permanent displays at the John M. Parrott Art Gallery at the Belleville Public Library and at the Loyalist College Library, also in Belleville.



  • 1889 – Born August 15, a twin of Manson, and siblings George, Frank and Maria in the village of Point Anne.
  • 1892 – Sketching voraciously at the age of three.
  • 1908 – Enrolled in the Ontario College of Art (OCA), Toronto, Ontario.
  • 1911 – Begins courses at Albright School of Art, Buffalo, New York.
  • 1912 – 13 – Continues art studies at the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.
  • 1914 – 16 – Returns to further study at OCA.
  • 1917 – Receives a scholarship from the Royal Canadian Academy (RCA) enabling him to travel in Europe during WWI.
  • 1918 – Commissioned by the Canadian War Memorials Fund and National Gallery of Canada – his ‘Women in War’ series.
  • 1918 – Elected as a founding member of the Ontario Society of Artists (OSA).
  • 1920 – Becomes an Associate of the Royal Canadian Academy (RCA), receiving a second scholarship.
  • 1922 – First public exhibition held in Belleville, Ontario.
  • 1924 and 1925 – Chosen for first British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, and secondly at the new Canadian Pavilion.
  • 1926 – His portraits considered the best in the Ontario Society of Art (OSA) Exhibition at Toronto Gallery of Art.
  • 1928 – 30 – Exhibited at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto.
  • 1932 – His work is recognized at Albright School of Art, Buffalo, New York
  • 1938 – Exhibited at the London Tate Gallery’s Canadian exhibition.
  • 1939 – Exhibited at the New York World’s Fair.
  • 1940 – Begins teaching at RCA, Toronto.
  • 1943 – 44 – Begins teaching at OCA.
  • 1944 – Exhibits in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in the Canadian Exhibition of Contemporary Art.
  • 1945 – Exhibits again in Belleville, Ontario where he begins to donate a painting yearly to the University Women’s Club.
  • 1946 – 47 – Again teaches at OCA.
  • 1948 – Appointed an Academician of the Royal Canadian Academy(ARCA).
  • 1951 – Resigns in protest from the OSA due to its modern leaning interests.
  • 1955 – Commissioned by Toronto’s St.Claire Avenue Granite Club to paint two large winter murals.
  • 1956 – Buys a summer home on the Long Reach, Bay of Quinte where he paints and gives seasonal lessons.
  • 1957 – Commissioned by the St Lawrence Seaway Authority to paint seven mills along the banks of the St Lawrence River.
  • 1958 – Became a founding member of the Ontario Institute of Painters (OIP).
  • 1959 – Chosen to paint the Toronto skyline as a gift from the city to Queen Elizabeth II on her royal visit to Canada.
  • 1960 – Mounts an exhibition for the OIP at the Royal College of Art in England.
  • 1960 – 62 – Teaches at OCA until ill health forces him to stop.
  • 1971 – Dies at Toronto’s Wellesley Hospital, April 10.

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