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 Manly Edward MacDonald  (1889 - 1971)

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Lived/Active: Ontario/Massachusetts / Canada      Known for: landscape and marine painting, printmaking, teaching

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Manly Edward MacDonald  RCA, OIP (1889 – 1971)

Manly MacDonald was a well-known Canadian painter, printmaker and educator.

He was born in Point Anne, Ontario, a town about 150 miles east of Toronto, Ontario, and died in Toronto, where he had lived since the early 1920s. (1)

His primary medium was oil paint; however, he also worked in pastel, watercolor, etching*, drypoint*, aquatint* and mixed mediums.  His subjects included portraits, figures, landscapes, winter scenes, cityscapes, village scenes, farm activity, lakes, rivers, boats and genre*.  His styles were Realism* and Plein Air*.  His favorite painting location was the countryside around the Bay of Quinte on the north shore of Lake Ontario, near where he was born. (2)

MacDonald’s formal art education includes the Albright Art School, Buffalo, New York [Aka: Buffalo Fine Arts Academy] (1910) (3); the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School, Massachusetts (1912 – 1913) under William Paxton (3) and Philip Hale; and the Ontario College of Art, Toronto (1914 – 1916) under John W. Beatty and George A. Reid.  MacDonald also taught at the Ontario College of Art from 1946 to the mid 1960s. (4)

He was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts* (Associate – 1919, Academician – 1948); the Ontario Society of Artists* (1919 – 1951), though he later resigned in protest over the Society’s emphasis on “modernism”; and he was a founding member of the Ontario Institute of Painters* (1958). (5)

In addition to exhibiting with the above organizations, he exhibited with the Boston Arts Club in 1926 and the Art Association of Montreal (now the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts) in 1938.  His paintings were also included in the 1924 and 1925 British Empire Exhibitions at Wembley, London, England; the 1939 New York World’s Fair; the 1952 Colombo Plan Exhibition, Ceylon [now Sri Lanka]; the 1953 New Delhi International, India; and the 1959 Museum London, Ontario exhibition, which included the Painters Eleven, titled “Points of View”. (6)

Posthumously, his paintings were included in “Canvas of War: Painting the Canadian Experience, 1914 to 1945”, at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2001.

MacDonald’s works are avidly collected in Canada; and they are in several public collections.  According to the Canadian Heritage Information Network* there are 41 of his paintings and drawings in the permanent collections of museums in Canada. They include: the Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery (Owen Sound, Ontario), The Market Gallery (Toronto), Museum London (Ontario), McMichael Canadian Art Collection (Kleinburg, Ontario), Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (B.C.), and the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa).

The Canadian War Museum, Ottawa has the largest collection with 28 MacDonald paintings in its permanent collection (included in the previous total). “In September 1918, Eric Brown, the director of the National Gallery of Canada, commissioned MacDonald to paint scenes of women working on the land during the war.  At the time, Brown was encouraging a number of artists to paint Canadian home front subjects as these had not been dealt with by the Canadian War Memorials Fund commissions operating in England.”  These paintings are now housed in the CWM. (7)

MacDonald's awards include a Royal Canadian Academy of Art Travelling Scholarship won in 1918 and used in 1920 to travel through France, Spain and Italy. (8)


(1) Sources: A Dictionary of Canadian Artists (1974), by Colin S. MacDonald (see AskART book references); and the National Gallery of Canada Artists Page –

Note: The 1926 OSA exhibition catalogue lists his address as The Studio Building*, however his stay must have been short as previous and subsequent catalogues do not. Source: Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art* –

(2) Sources: AskART Images; and museum illustrations and descriptions of mediums in the Canadian Heritage Information Network* data base and the Canadian War Museum.

(3) All artist teachers, and artist associates mentioned in this biography have their own pages in AskART.

(4) Source: A Dictionary of Canadian Artists (1974), by Colin S. MacDonald; and Manly E. MacDonald – Interpreter of Old Ontario (2010), by Charles Beale (see AskART book references).

Note: Some respected sources say MacDonald attended the Ontario School of Art before the American schools, one as early as 1908; however J.W. Beatty did not start teaching at the school until 1912.

Note: A Dictionary of Canadian Artists (1974), by Colin S. MacDonald says Manly MacDonald studied under Ernest Fosbery at the Albright Art School; however, according to the information form dated March 1913 and deposited by Fosbery with the National Gallery of Canada, Fosbery taught at the Art Student’s League of Buffalo and at the Arts Guild of Buffalo, and no mention is made of the Albright Art School. Source: NGC 1913

(5) Sources: Art Gallery of Ontario: the Canadian Collection (1970), by Helen Pepall Bradfield; and Manly E. MacDonald Interpreter of Old Ontario (2010), by Charles Beale (see AskART book references).

Note: Kenneth Forbes and Archibald Barnes, both future members of the Ontario Institute of Painters, also resigned from the OSA in 1951 for the same reason.

(6) Exhibition Sources: A Dictionary of Canadian Artists (1974), by Colin S. MacDonald; The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction (2001), by Anthony R. Westbridge and Diana L. Bodnar; The National Gallery of Canada: Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture, Volume III (1960), by R.H. Hubbard; Art and Architecture in Canada (1991), by Loren R. Lerner and Mary F. Williamson (see books in AskART book references); and the Art Gallery of Ontario’s archived catalogue summaries (online).

Note: Perhaps Ontario Institute of Painter's most famous exhibition was “Points of View”, at which 10 of its member's works were hung with those of the abstractionist group Painters Eleven* and the works of figurative abstractionists like York Wilson. The point of the show was to illustrate the conservative (OIP), experimental (P11) and intermediate (Wilson and Company) trends in Canadian painting .

(7) Source: Canadian War Museum.

Note: A September 16, 2010 article in Watershed Magazine by Janet Davies cites two more museums with larger MacDonald collections than the CWM; however they are not listed with the Canadian Heritage Information Network and thus the counts cannot be easily verified.  Their names are The Art Gallery of Northumberland, Cobourg, Ontario (37) and the John M. Parrott Art Gallery, Belleville, Ontario (over 100). Source: Janet Davies –  

Note: In 1959, MacDonald was commissioned by the city of Toronto to paint a picture of the city's waterfront, which was given as a gift to Queen Elizabeth II; though it isn't listed on the Royal Collection website; it was recently located through inquiries to Queen Elizabeth II and photographed for the book Manly E. MacDonald – Interpreter of Old Ontario (2010), by Charles Beale (see AskART book references).  Source: Charles Beale

(8) Source: Passionate Spirits: A History of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, 1880 – 1980 (1980) by Rebecca Sisler (see AskART book references).

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Prepared and contributed by M.D. Silverbrooke.



This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Manly Edward MacDonald (1889-1971) OSA, ARCA, OIP ??

He was born August 15, 1889 at Point Anne, Ontario. In 1902, at age thirteen,  he successfully tried the high school examination in art in nearby Belleville, Ontario.  In October, 1908, MacDonald enrolled in the Ontario College of Art (OCA) in Toronto and at age 22, in 1911, began courses at the Albright School of Art in Buffalo, New York.  1912 and 1913 saw MacDonald continue his art studies at the prestigious Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.  From 1914 to 1916, he returned to the Ontario College of Art in Toronto and in 1917 received his first scholarship from the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (RCA), enabling him to travel through Europe during the First World War, drawing and taking in the war effort.  While in France, he married fellow OCA student, Beverly Lambe.

MacDonald was commissioned in 1918 by the Canadian War Memorials Fund and the National Gallery of Canada to paint scenes of women working in the fields in the Quinte region of Ontario. That same year he was elected a member of the Ontario Society of Artists (OSA).  In 1920 Manly MacDonald became an Associate of the Royal Canadian Academy and received a second RCA Scholarship, traveling through France, Italy, Spain and Great Britain.  On his return from Europe in 1922, he painted full time while his young family lived in Belleville.  This was also where he held his first public exhibition.  At the same time, MacDonald opened a studio on Severn Street in Toronto's Rosedale ravine area.  In 1924 he exhibited at the prestigious Wembley Exhibition, Middlesex, England and showed again in 1925, at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, Middlesex, England, in the new Canadian pavillion.  

By 1926, the Canadian art scene was changing as more traditional painters, like MacDonald, felt shunted aside by new ideas at Ontario Society of Artists.  MacDonald's portraits were, however, considered to be the best in the OSA Exhibition at the Art Gallery of Toronto that year.  In 1932, Manly MacDonald's work was recognized by his alma mater at the Albright School of Art in Buffalo, New York.  His work was included in the 1936 Art Gallery of Toronto's "Pictures by Canadians" Exhibition.  He also continued to exhibit at the Canadian National Exhibition, Fine Arts Canada show for many years.  In 1938, the Canadian High Commissioner, Vincent Massey announced a major exhibition of Canadian art to be held at the Tate Gallery, London, England   A number of MacDonald's pieces were on display and he was included in the Canadian art exhibition at the 1939 New York World's Fair.  

By 1940, MacDonald began teaching at the Royal Canadian Academy, Toronto.  He also taught at the Ontario College of Art (& Design) from 1943 to 1944.  Also in 1944, MacDonald exhibited in the Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with the Canadian Exhibition of Contemporary Art.  Over four decades, his work was included with other prominent artists in the Coutts and then Coutts-Hallmark Canadian Christmas Card Series.  He displayed his paintings at the Belleville Spring Fair in 1945, which became an annual event.  In demonstrating his humble and kind character, Manly MacDonald donated a painting to the Canadian Federation of University Women's Club of Belleville and District towards a scholarship for a young woman each year.  He also gave each recipient a painting.  From 1946 to 1947, he again taught at the Ontario College of Art (and Design), all the while continuing to paint, exhibit and accept commissions.

By 1948, he was now an Academician of the Royal Canadian Academy (ARCA). MacDonald, along with three contemporaries, resigned in protest in 1951 from the Ontario Society of Artists, in a simmering  disagreement with other artists over the OSA's emphasis on what MacDonald called "creeping modernism".  Although he had been an active member of OSA for over thirty years, his name was stricken from the record and remains so to this day.  1955 saw MacDonald accept a commission by the Toronto St. Clair Avenue Granite Club to paint two large winter murals.  The MacDonald family bought a summer home in 1956 at the Long Reach, Bay of Quinte, south of Napanee, Ontario where he sketched and painted the pastoral landscapes of the area, as well as spoke to groups of interested people.  MacDonald always had time for others, teaching incidentally to those who dropped by, or through more formal lessons.  

He received a commission from the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority in 1957 to commemorate the establishment of the seaway and painted seven Eastern Ontario mills.  In 1958, Manly MacDonald became a founding member of the Ontario Institute of painters. (OIP).  He was chosen to paint the skyline of Toronto in 1959, as a gift from the city to Queen Elizabeth II on her state visit.  The commission raised the ire with more modernist artists.  In 1960, Manly MacDonald mounted an exhibit at the Royal College of Art in England and for the Ontario Institute of Painters in Toronto.  He returned to teach again at OCA in the 1960's before ill health forced him to stop.  His wife Beverley died in 1969 at the age of 79.  Manly Edward MacDonald died at Toronto's Wellesley Hospital, on April 10th, 1971.  He was 81.

This semi-impressionistic painter always saw himself as a traditionalist, but he experimented with technique, style and mediums throughout his lifetime.  A plein air painter, MacDonald could as easily paint an impressionistic landscape as a traditional scene of horses ploughing a field, or sheep crossing a bridge.  He painted portraits in both genres as well as in pastels and was also adept with etchings and drypoints, producing his own sets of Christmas cards.  It is said that he gave away as many pieces as he sold, but there was always a sense that he would provide for his family.

MacDonald's art can be seen in major galleries across Canada, including the National Gallery of Canada and the new Canadian War Museum.  Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II owns two of his paintings in the Royal Collection Enterprises.  The largest public collections are held by the John M. Parrott Art Gallery, housed in the new Belleville Public Library and at Loyalist College, also in Belleville.  Many more remain in private hands, found in Canada and around the world, passed down through families who knew Manly MacDonald personally, or who bought them when they sold for very little.

Charles Beale, author of Manly E. MacDonald (1889-1971) - Interpreter of Old Ontario is available in independent book stores across Ontario.

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