Doris McCarthy

Doris McCarthy, CM, painter, teacher, writer (Born 7 July 1910 in Calgary, AB; died 25 November 2010 in Toronto, ON). Doris McCarthy is best known for her vast array of abstracted Canadian landscape paintings.

Doris McCarthy, CM, OOnt, painter, teacher, writer (Born 7 July 1910 in Calgary, AB; died 25 November 2010 in Toronto, ON). Doris McCarthy is best known for her vast array of abstracted Canadian landscape paintings.

Early Life and Education

Doris McCarthy’s family moved to Toronto in 1913 when she was two years old. Most of her childhood and early youth was spent living with her parents in the east end of Toronto, in a neighbourhood known as The Beaches. A precocious painter and drawer from an early age, McCarthy was awarded a scholarship to study at the Ontario College of Art (now the Ontario College of Art and Design University) in 1926. At the OCA, she was taught by a number of iconic Canadian painters, such as Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald, and Hortense Gordon. Around this time, she also sought out the mentorship of two other painters from the Group of Seven, A.Y. Jackson and Lawren Harris. “I don’t think I was ever influenced by the Group of Seven’s actual paintings,” McCarthy said in a 2004 interview with the artist Harold Klunder. “I was influenced very strongly by the tradition of going out into nature and painting what was there. I bought it. And I still buy it.”

McCarthy graduated with honours from the OCA in 1930, and a year later she landed her first substantial exhibit when her work was shown at the Ontario Society of Artists’ annual exhibition. In 1945, McCarthy was granted membership to the Ontario Society of Artists. She served as vice president from 1961 to 1964 and then as the first female president from 1964 to 1967. However, back in 1930, after graduating from the OCA, McCarthy worked for very little pay at Grip, an advertising agency where many of the Group of Seven had previously been employed. In 1932, she took a job teaching painting at Toronto’s Central Technical School. She would hold the position for the next forty years, and was widely acknowledged to be a beloved teacher and mentor to countless students.


By the 1950s, McCarthy had developed a reputation as one of Canada’s premier landscape artists. Following the credo of the Group of Seven that she first subscribed to as a student — “going out into nature and painting what was there” — McCarthy gathered much of the material for her work on painting trips into the wilderness. Though she is best known for her depictions of Canadian landscapes Haliburton, Muskoka, Georgian Bay, the Badlands of Alberta, and the Arctic she also painted landscapes around the world. In 1951, on sabbatical, she spent over a year painting in Europe, and in 1961, she travelled throughout Asia, painting landscapes in locations such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Cambodia and countless other countries. Using primarily thick oils and watercolours, McCarthy developed a style, often verging on abstraction, that was consistently praised for its vitality, boldness and skillful explorations of hard-edged angles, form and colour.

Later Career and Life

McCarthy built a home and studio on land she purchased in 1939 near the Scarborough Bluffs, overlooking Lake Ontario. She coined the residence “Fool’s Paradise” and lived and worked there after she retired from teaching in 1972. The property now functions as an artist’s residence, the Doris McCarthy Artist-in-Residence Centre, and is in part funded by the Ontario Heritage Trust.

Throughout her career, McCarthy’s work was exhibited widely and is now featured in many permanent collections, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, The Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, and the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.

Aside from painting, McCarthy continued her education late into life, graduating in 1989 from the University of Toronto Scarborough with an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree. She is also the author of three volumes of autobiography: A Fool in Paradise (1990), The Good Wine (1991) and Ninety Years Wise (2004)

In 2004, the Doris McCarthy Gallery opened on the University of Toronto Scarborough campus. For her centennial birthday, in 2010, the Doris McCarthy Gallery and the University of Toronto Art Centre held a retrospective of her work, Roughing It in the Bush: The Landscapes of Doris McCarthy, which featured 70 works, some never before exhibited publicly.


McCarthy won the Tia Maria Award, Canadian Woman Artist of the Year, in 1983. In 1986, she was inducted into the Order of Canada, and in 1992 was inducted into the Order of Ontario. She received a William Kilbourn Award for recognition of lifetime contribution to the arts in the city of Toronto in 1998.