Born in 1873 in New Elvet, Durham, England, James Edward Harvey MacDonald emigrated with his family to Hamilton, Ontario in 1887. He took night classes at the Hamilton Art School for three years then moved to Toronto in 1890. He apprenticed to the Toronto Lithographic Company in 1890, then to the Grip Limited, designer-engravers, for the following twenty years. He studied under George Reid at the Ontario School of Art and Design.
Then, he joined the Toronto Arts Students League and returned to London, England in 1903 to work for the Carlton Studio Designers and Illustrators. He returned to Toronto in 1907 to became head designer for Grip Limited. He met Tom Thomson, Arthur Lismer and Frank Carmichael at Grip. He left Grip in 1911. In 1913 he moved to Thornhill, Ontario and went with Lawren Harris to see the exhibit of Scandinavian Art at the Albright Gallery, Buffalo, a show that had a strong impact on his future painting. In 1917-18 he began writing poetry. In 1918 he went to a famous ”box-car” painting trip to the Algoma region with Lawren Harris and Frank Johnston. MacDonald became a member of the Group of Seven. In 1921 he joined the staff of the Ontario College of Art and became Principal of the College from 1929 to 1932. He made an annual sketching trips to the Canadian Rocky Mountains in 1924-20. He died in Toronto in 1932.
In the 1890s, he began painting High Park and the Humber River landscapes near his home in west Toronto. In 1912, he began painting the northern landscapes in Georgian Bay and the Muskoka districts of Ontario.
He was elected full member of the Royal Canadian Academy in 1931.
He exhibited with the Royal Canadian Academy from 1909 to 1932.
Source: Paul Duval, Canadian Impressionism, McClelland & Stewart, Canada, 1990