Canadian Painting in the Thirties

The Beaver Hall Group

Montreal had an active group of artists who consciously allied themselves with the Group of Seven in Toronto, recognizing the importance of the Group's struggle for a contemporary, native art. A native Montrealer, A.Y. Jackson maintained the contact between the two cities, supporting and stimulating the Montreal artists through regular visits and correspondence.

Most of these Montreal artists had originally studied under William Brymner and had been involved in the Beaver Hall Group, a non-structured association of artists sharing studio space on Beaver Hall Square. Formed in the fall of 1920, it survived only a year and a half though the friendships, and the alliances formed during this time continued through the next two decades.

While Montreal boasted several excellent landscape painters, including Anne Savage and Sarah Robertson, observant art reviewers identified an independent school primarily concerned with painting the human form, among whom was Edwin Holgate. After a year studying in Paris, Holgate returned to Montreal and in 1928 started teaching graphics at the ╔cole des Beaux-Arts. Fluently bilingual, Holgate was one of the few artists able to cross the cultural barriers between French and English Montreal, and his influence was felt in both communities. A great admirer of the work of Paul CÚzanne, Holgate's principal concern as a painter was in the structure of the body and the modelling of its planes.

Lilias Newton shared Holgate's concern for form and became a successful portrait painter, and both artists would teach at the Art Association of Montreal between 1934 and 1940.

Figure painting was definitely the prerogative of Montreal artists during the early thirties.
Apart from Ludivine (c.1930, cat. no.17), Edwin Holgate's women are studies in structure and form. Lilias Newton's sitters are persons confident of their place in society and the direction of their lives. Prudence Heward portrayed strong, independent women with individual lives and personalities, yet there is a certain tension and brooding quality in her work. Her children stare at the viewer, suspicious or uncomprehending, as if affected by the uncertainties of Heward's own life.

Over the decade Heward heightened the intensity of her colours using rich, almost acidic tone, and moved from the creation of sculptural forms on a flat surface to brilliant rendering of colour and light.