January 14, 2015 3:20 pm
Updated: January 15, 2015 12:49 am

Paintings by Group of Seven founder were buried in backyard for 30 years


WATCH: The Vancouver Art Gallery is getting set to show ten works of art that were lost for decades, buried in an Ontario backyard. Nadia Stewart reports.

VANCOUVER – Ten oil sketches by James Edward Hervey (J.E.H.) MacDonald, the founder of the iconic Group of Seven, will go on display at the Vancouver Art Gallery after being buried for more than 30 years.

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The collection has been unseen by the public in more than 40 years and was donated to the gallery by Toronto-based collectors Ephry and Melvin Merkur.

“We are thrilled to have received these extraordinary paintings that are accompanied by such an incredible story,” said Kathleen S. Bartels, the Vancouver Art Gallery’s director, in a news release. “We extend our sincere gratitude to the Merkur Family for this remarkable gesture of generosity. This donation adds much depth to the existing works by MacDonald in our collection and enriches the Gallery’s overall representation of the Group of Seven. It also sheds new light on some of the most cherished and acclaimed McDonald paintings that are in public collections around the country.”

The ten paintings were done by MacDonald early in his career, from 1910 to 1922, and they include studies for his most iconic large-scale paintings, which are on display across Canada.

The works include: Sketch of Tangled Garden, 1916, Sketch of Cattle by the Creek, 1918, Sketch of Falls, Montreal River, 1920, Sketch of The Elements, 1916, Sketch of Leaves in the Brook, 1919, Sketch of Mist Fantasy, Northland, 1922, Sketch of The Wild River, 1919, and two other oil sketches, Untitled (Algoma), 1915 and Untitled (Batchawana Rapids), 1919 that do not relate to a known larger work.

According to the Vancouver Art Gallery, the story of these paintings date back to the 1930s when MacDonald lived in Thornhill, north of Toronto. In an effort to preserve the works, MacDonald and his son wrapped a group of oil paintings in layers of cellophane and tar paper, then placed them inside boxes and buried underground. They remained there for more than 30 years, until 1974, when MacDonald’s son revealed the existence of the paintings to his friend who then purchased them all.

Since the unearthing of these artworks, they have been kept within the Merkur Family for the past four decades.

WATCH: Vancouver Art Gallery curator Ian Thom talks to Global News about how to view the paintings

“My brother, Mel, and I are thrilled that these fabulous works of art will be displayed for the public to enjoy. My Dad and Mom, who spent a lifetime expanding their collection of Canadian art, surely would be delighted as well,” said Ephry Merkur. “Many thanks to Ian Thom for the tremendous work he put into researching this collection and to my dear friends Janet McNaught and Marvin Cohen for their hard work organizing this collection.”

“Given its extremely unique nature, this gift marks the most significant historical gift the Gallery has ever received, next to the Emily Carr Trust,” said Thom, senior curator-historical at the Vancouver Art Gallery. “The focus on MacDonald’s early practice lends considerable insight into the transformation of his style from more traditional depictions of the landscape to the bold, brilliantly coloured landscapes he was known for as a member of the Group of Seven.”

The paintings will go on display as part of an exhibition in fall, 2015.

© 2015 Shaw Media

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