Renowned painter James Edward Hervey MacDonald or J.E.H. MacDonald (1873-1932) was a 'Post-impressionist' and a member of the prestigious Group of Seven. His work was mostly focused on the Canadian landscape. It embodied an ambiguous beauty of rich colors, which also became a point of criticism from some corners. He had to face hostile opposition for his art also, which according to some, lacked originality and often bore marked resemblance to other painters' styles.
MacDonald's best-known work is "The Tangled Garden," presently kept at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. This painting has dimensions of 121.4 cm X 152.4 cm, and is a work of oil on beaverboard canvas. This painting is remarkable for its bright vivid color scheme, as well as the intricacy of design. These same attributes drew a lot of dissension however, when the work was exhibited first. "The Tangled Garden" is dated March 1916, when the Canadian art scene was dominated by more bland colors, abstraction, and simplicity. It was mainly due to the conventional practices and expectations that earned demerits for the painting, rather than its artistic qualities.
The background in the frame features a purple wall, against which a close view representation of garden plants is made. MacDonald has used varying shades of green to add distinction to disparate plants and painted diverse leaf structures with great finesse. Similar dexterity is visible in the portrayal of flowers, where attention to details is apparent in the terms of forms and colors. The flowers have been shown in very bright colors, such as red, maroon, blue, and yellow, which enhance the overall sharpness of the piece. There are two fully-grown trees at the back, which are partially covered in the frame. The right side tree is green with sparse foliage and the left side tree is a heavier type with orange colored fruits. MacDonald has also been conspicuous about the use of light in the form of sunlit sections of the enclosure. A striking attribute of "The Tangled Garden" is that it does not confine its focus to the blossoming flora in the garden, rather it gives due consideration to mellowing and withering plants, which brings it closer to the reality. The plant in the forefront is a drying plant, as are those at the back. MacDonald has therefore, beautifully conveyed the co-existence of life, growth, and decay.
"The Tangled Garden," according to various critics, carries a 'shock value' due to its unusually sharp visual theme. Nevertheless, it remains one of the finest works in the in the history of art, on the account of its abundance and profoundness, J.E.H, MacDonald yielded to it.