In Praise of Canadian Women…

Photo by Kathy M.

Thanks to member Kathy M. for this review of Painting Friends: The Beaver Hall Women Painters by Barbara Meadowcroft (1999)

This is SUCH an important book, as even in the introduction we learn that:

“Despite these achievements, the place of the Beaver Hall women in Canadian art history is uncertain. Robert Hubbard ignored them completely in his influential book, The Development of Canadian Art (1964). J. Russell Harper’s Painting in Canada: A History (1977) draws attention to the “Many outstanding women painters in the Montreal Group”, and then dismissed them in three sentences. …

“Most Canadians could name the Group of Seven. But few outside of Montreal have heard of Prudence Heward or Anne Savage. Why the discrepancy? Why is the Group of Seven so widely known and so well represented? To find out about them and their work you have to hunt in out-of-print catalogues and the storerooms of museums?

“…Women were associated with nature and domesticity, men with culture and professionalism. The qualities attributed to the artist – genius, originality and unconventionality – were considered incompatible with “femininity”. According to a 19th-century writer: “so long as a woman refrains from unsexing herself by acquiring genius let her dabble in anything. The woman of genius does not exist but when she does she is a man.” (The Modern Parisienne, 1912)

As the book explores the works of this ‘Group of Ten’ artists, one learns of the friendships these women shared. As so many women do, in so many varying fields of expertise, “the women of Beaver Hall drew strength and confidence from their painting friends.”

The various photographs (even artistic renderings) of the women scattered throughout the book, help the reader feel a greater sense of connection to each woman. (The eyes are the windows to your soul.” – William Shakespeare)

The abundance of artwork from each of these 10 friends, is thoughtfully displayed, showing the styles and favoured colour palettes, and if one looks closely enough, one can see a similarity in their work, all the while admiring the uniqueness of each piece. Its quite remarkable!

The short and easy to read book takes us all the way from the last few decades of the 1800’s – the births of some of the women, through the 1970’s when the last of the friends passes away.

We are introduced to some influences on each artist’s work as well as sweet anecdotes of their life experiences.

As one will see as they progress through each intertwined story, these women were advocates for each others’ work and leaned on each other as friends often do.

These women add a new dimension to the word ‘genius’ and certainly prove that femininity and genius are more than capable of co-existing – as these ten bright, strong, talented women found in “Painting friends” are evidence of exactly that!

Kathy M.

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