“Snowy Morning, Rocky Mountains near Lake O’Hara” by J.E.H. MacDonald

By: Greg Humeniuk

Lot 30 – James Edward Hervey (J.E.H.) MacDonald, OSA, RCA (1873-1932), Canadian. SNOWY MORNING, ROCKY MOUNTAINS NEAR LAKE O’HARA, 1925. Oil on paperboard signed and dated “25”; signed, dated “Aug. 1925” and titled verso. 8.375 x 10.375 in — 21.3 x 26.4 cm. Estimate $80,000-$120,000

On his second sketching trip to the Canadian Rockies, from 25 August to mid-September 1925, J.E.H. MacDonald vaulted from where he left off the previous summer. Between the first and second trips he analysed and assessed his 1924 sketches, worked up some into canvases and returned better attuned to the conditions and landscape, ready to capture the mountains’ character.

Snowy Morning, Rocky Mountains near Lake O’Hara is superlative from any angle. MacDonald’s composition is effectively divided into fore-, middle-, and background like the elements of a stage set. Each engages the eye and moves it from one zone to the other. In his palette of three, maybe four, colours plus white, MacDonald renders an image with palpable truth and evokes the words of a major figure in MacDonald’s artistic and intellectual life, John Ruskin: “[the] representation of facts … is the foundation of all art.”[1] n his second season at Lake O’Hara, MacDonald painted one of the finest sketches of his career with Snow Morning, Rocky Mountains near Lake O’Hara. He brought years of experience painting hundreds of oil sketches to bear on a landscape that struck him deeply the year before and that he was enthused to return to in August 1925.

MacDonald dated the sketch to “Aug. 1925” and skipped noting the day, likely because it was not important. To try to understand MacDonald’s method, excerpts of his journals published by Lisa Christensen give reason to believe this was painted on the final day of the month. On 26 or 27 August, MacDonald wrote about his first day of sketching, “[some] snow with bright intervals. Took lunch and went up on Odaray Bench. Made sketch O’Hara in distance. Grand setting but too cold to draw well. Fine composition higher up with better foreground. Do later,” suggesting he was getting primed for this sketch.[2] On 30 August he wrote of a, “beautiful day. Fine clear morning. Later a few cirrus and in afternoon small cumulus. The peaks all clear. Made sketch of Goodsir in morning light. Mountains beautifully clear and delicate in colour. Had lunch in lee of big rock on Odaray Bench, the snowflakes all round and delightful warmth and freshness,” and since the present sketch is cloudless and MacDonald painted Goodsir, not Lefroy on the 30th that becomes an unlikely date for the sketch.[3] On 31 August, the journal fragment, “[made] sketch in early morning (7 o’clock) of Lefroy with bicolour shadow lines from peak in the sky,” suggests it might be the date of the sketch.[4] MacDonald had spent a few days acclimatising and reconnecting with the terrain and vantage points, he soon saw a good painting place, but needed another day before the conditions were right and that might have occurred 31 August.

Really, the specific date is far less important than MacDonald’s achievement with Snowy Morning, Rocky Mountains near Lake O’Hara. For a sketch with an area less than one square foot, Snowy Morning, Rocky Mountains near Lake O’Hara has immense scale, and coupled with MacDonald’s economical use of paint and his Whistlerian preparation, its inherent majesty extends far beyond most sketches of its size, and stands among the finest of MacDonald’s Rocky Mountain sketches of that campaign.


About the auction:

Online from May 27-June 1, 2023, The Canadian Fine Art session of The Canada Auction series includes works by Group of Seven members Lawren Harris, A.J. Casson, Frank Hans Johnston, A.Y. Jackson, and J.E.H. MacDonald, which are complemented by work by artists including Charles Pachter, Kazuo Nakamura, Frederick A. Verner, Maud Lewis, René Marcil, Gordon Appelbe Smith, and Pegi Nicol MacLeod, as well as two rare to market paintings by Frederick Loveroff.

We invite you to preview these works in person at our Toronto location, 275 King Street East, 2nd Floor.

On View:
 Wednesday, May 24 from 1:00 pm to 7:00 pm
 Thursday, May 25 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
 Friday, May 26 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
 Saturday, May 27 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
 Sunday, May 28 from 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm
 Monday, May 29 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
 Tuesday, May 30 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
 Wednesday, May 31 from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm

Otherwise by appointment.

Please contact us for more information.


[1] John Ruskin, The Lamp of Beauty: Writings on Art (London: Phaidon Press, 1959, 1995), 5.
[2] Lisa Christensen, The Lake O’Hara Art of J. E. H. MacDonald and Hiker’s Guide (Calgary, AB: Fifth House Ltd., 2003), 44.
[3] Christensen, The Lake O’Hara Art of J. E. H. MacDonald, 37.
[4] Christensen, The Lake O’Hara Art of J. E. H. MacDonald, 55.

Related News

Start Collecting

Everything you need to know to get you started bidding in our auctions at Waddington’s.

Learn More

How to Sell

Find out why selecting Waddington’s is the right choice for consigning your works of art, wine or specialty items.

Learn More

Become a Member

Sign up for your Waddington’s account to start bidding, manage your invoices, and track items you're interested in.

Sign Up