LOT 104

1873 - 1932

Lake Oesa
oil on board
on verso signed, titled and titled Lake Oesa, Rocky Mountains and Lake Oesa, Yoho National Park, B.C. on the gallery labels and dated 1926 on the Mayberry gallery label
8 1/2 x 10 1/2 in 21.6 x 26.7 cm

Estimate: $80,000 - $120,000

Preview at: Heffel Vancouver

Collection of F. Wallace Clancy
Collection of Phil McCready, Toronto
The Framing Gallery, Toronto
Galerie Walter Klinkhoff Inc., Montreal
Collection of the Tilden family, Montreal
Sold sale of Fraser Bros., October 23, 1986, lot 36
Masters Gallery Ltd., Calgary
Mayberry Fine Art, Winnipeg
Collection of Laurie Guthrie, Edmonton

Paul Duval, The Tangled Garden: The Art of J.E.H. MacDonald, 1978, pages 141, 143 and 145, the 1932 canvas entitled Mountain Snowfall, Lake Oessa [sic], C.S. Band Estate Collection, a close-up view of Lake Oesa, reproduced page 177
Lisa Christensen, The Lake O’Hara Art of J.E.H. MacDonald and Hiker’s Guide, 2003, pages 4, 22, 23, 27 and 59, the circa 1928 oil sketch entitled Lake Oesa and Mount Lefroy, collection of Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery, reproduced page 75

After his last Group of Seven trip to Algoma in 1920, financial pressures dictated that J.E.H. MacDonald take a position teaching at the Ontario College of Art, which he kept until his death in 1932. This meant his main sketching trips had to take place in the summer. He wrote to his wife in 1922: “I would gladly become a vagabond myself and often feel that I’d like to do nothing the rest of my life but sketch and paint and study nature outdoors. I loathe school and the thoughts of teaching. I like the lonely shore and the sound of the waves and the little spruce trees and the terns chipping and scolding.”

In 1924, MacDonald took his first trip to the Rockies, and there he found solace. Peace and joy washed over him as he hiked and sketched, and he would return every August thereafter until 1930. In 1928, he rhapsodized, “If it is possible to make reservations in Heaven, I am going to have an upper berth somewhere in the O’Hara ranges of Paradise.” MacDonald’s health could be delicate, but during his trips to the Rockies he was happy and strong – a robust hiker, he climbed to high vantage points, sketching in sun, rain and snow. There he experienced a renewed sense of vigour and vitality.

The mountain subject matter, with its clear, bright light and colour, was all fresh to MacDonald, and he was surprised by how the atmosphere constantly shifted. His work was very different from his paintings of Algoma just a few years previous. As author Paul Duval stated: “In his mountainscapes he is concerned with flat divisions of spatial design in a conscious way rarely seen in his earlier work. There is a deliberate, hard-edged clarity evident which may, in part, reflect the fact that he was engaged on a number of large architectural design projects during the mountain period.” This clarity is evident in Lake Oesa, in which MacDonald portrays the vertical wall of the mountains from the opposite shore of the lake and their lower flanks carved by the passage of the glaciers, which linger even in summer on the mountains’ upper reaches.

In his journals, MacDonald recorded his impressions of Lake Oesa in Yoho National Park, on September 2, 1925:

O’Hara has two sister lakes to spread out the effect of her charms a little easefully to us - Oesa and McArthur; Oesa, a little emerald sister which Hungabee Mountain nurses in a great glacial hall of sombre rock...Had lunch at my favorite lookout towards Oesa, beside the waterfalls and with the fine valley and Oesa in front. The little harebells numerous, beautifully delicate…Made sketch of Oesa…Found my oil bottle left there last year…Color of upper lakes very fine. Light green blue.

Lake Oesa is an extraordinary painting. Executed on the spot, it captures the stunning beauty so abundant in this area – dramatic cloud formations unfurl behind the rocky peaks, whose primordial formations rise up to points like gigantic crystals. MacDonald’s treatment of the mountains’ upper rock formations is almost abstract, and as he works down to their lower reaches sculpted by the ice of ages past, he depicts the rounded headlands with long, rhythmic brush-strokes; the contrast is striking. The blue-green lake is like a jewel set into the rocks, and on the close near shore, MacDonald used shades of green, mauve, pink and light blue to brighten the scene, as well as on the lower reaches of the opposite shore. In this exceptional Group period painting, MacDonald’s treatment of his subject is both strong and tender, and we can feel the inspiration he felt amidst the peaks. As he wrote in an ode to the Rockies,

Far do you call me

Heavenly mountains

Lead my soul wandering

By your green fountains

Estimate: $80,000 - $120,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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