Emily Coonan and Montreal’s Beaver Hall Group

Emily Coonan, Girl in a Dotted Dress, about 1923

Emily Coonan, Girl in a Dotted Dress, about 1923

The Beaver Hall Group was the first Canadian artist association in which women played a central role. The group included wonderful painters such as Emily Coonan, Prudence Heward and Lilias Torrance-Newton. The Group of Seven’s A. Y. Jackson and Edwin Holgate were also prominent members. A major exhibition of the Beaver Hall Group, “The Colours of Jazz”, is currently showing at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and there’s still time to catch it, running until the 31st of January. More than the Montreal counterpart to the Group of Seven, this explores the contribution of Montreal artists through the first half of the 20th century.

The show’s quite extensive… if overtly portrait centric…and includes some large figurative works by the astoundingly effective Prudence Heward – certainly one of Canada’s best painters of the era – and the wonderful portraits of Lilias Torrance-Newton.

Torrance-Newton, Prudence Heward

Torrance-Newton; Prudence Heward

I find that the most interesting of their number is the unassuming Emily Coonan. Unlike the other women in the group, Emily was from humble roots and a Roman Catholic to boot. Seems she was a bit of a loner. It’s her portraits of girls that stand out. Always understated, they feel as if she was just painting for herself. In fact she stopped exhibiting in 1930 although continuing to paint for the rest of her life. There’s an affinity for her subject, simply stated, deeply human, these girls seem to show some discomfort with formality, the idea of being painted – as though they would like to get back to their lives outside the paintings.


Emily Coonan, Girl in Green, 1913 (gift of A.Y. Jackson to the Art Gallery of Hamilton)

In 2014, Charlie Hill was retiring from his longstanding role as Curator of Canadian Art at the National Gallery. When asked if he could take but one painting with him, which would it be. It was not a Thomson, a Riopelle, nor a Colville but, “Well, I recently bought an absolutely fabulous Emily Coonan with a young girl and a cat in an interior that I would take, but I can’t.”

Emily Coonan, Girl and Cat, 1920

Emily Coonan, Girl and Cat, 1920

France and I are looking forward to the January 30th start to our Saturday winter workshops. Come join us for a wonderful season of painting. We’ve 6 themes and we could work in some lessons from Beaver Hall into a marvelous winter of painting! All the details are on my website: http://davidkearn.com/courses_e.htm

We hope to see you there!

A Favorite Art Place!

The Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, UK.

The Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, UK.

Whenever I’m in the UK, I try to squeeze in a visit to the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath. It’s a haven from the busy city center and at the moment, the Christmas Shopping crowds. It’s a very welcome break at any time of year and certainly one of my favorite art places.

The permanent collection occupies one room, howbeit a large one. It still has the feel of bygone days where art was packed in somewhat more so than today – hung high to the ceilings. Eclectic works are indeed still hung one over another, sometimes a little too high to see them properly. It’s part of the appeal and the quality is generally quite good, with some local interest (a Turner watercolour of Bath Abbey for example) and also a few surprises, including a small Paul Klee (then again, most Klees are small).

As with all collections, it takes on the patina of the passage of time, care and attention, underscored by the love of volunteers. Downstairs, there’s a more contemporary space for rotating exhibitions. I don’t always get to these, however last week, I just sat and enjoyed. I’d love to hear about your favorite art spaces: museums or commercial, large, small, far or wide, please drop me a comment!

The remainder of my Christmas shopping dissipated my reverie and I returned to the build up to the Holiday Season. On this frenzied but happy note, France and I would like to wish you all a wonderful Christmas!

Jean Baptiste Greuze and Thomas Gainsborough

Jean Baptiste Greuze, Thomas Gainsborough

Robert McGregor

Robert McGregor

Walter Sickert and Frank Brangwyn

Walter Sickart, Frank Brangwyn

Paul Klee

Paul Klee

Monet: A Bridge to Modernity

Claude Monet - The Highway Bridge under repair

Claude Monet, The Highway Bridge under repair, 1872

The featured special exhibition, Monet: A Bridge to Modernity is currently open at the National Gallery. It’s a focused exhibition of 12 Monet paintings,10 of which were painted over a few short years in the 1870’s, each featuring a bridge over the Seine in Argenteuil, now a suburb of Paris.

As much as “bridging to modernism”, I find it shows a working artist exploring a motif in his new locale. As a painter, I’m interested in the feel of plein-air and studio work. Monet undoubtedly started all of these works plein-air and then perhaps worked on them afterwords. Some breath of the urgency to complete on site. Others feel calmer, unhurried and more studio-finished. It’s an engaging slice of the artist working, just on the cusp of Impressionism.

It’s nice that the exhibition is part of the general gallery admission charge and perhaps the gallery could make a bit more of this fact – some folk seemed surprised that there was not an additional fee. That said, an exhibition built around 12 paintings is going to be quite compact, even with video and period photographs adding context.
Pont Argenteuil Monet 1

Claude Monet, Pont d’Argenteuil, circa 1874

Whilst you’re at the gallery, amble over to the International Galleries on the second floor for four more Monets in the permanent collection –  room C213!

Mona Lisa smiles…

Mona Lisa combo

That elusive smile…

I’ve long been fascinated by the way images resolve differently, up close and at distance. This was a theme of last year’s exhibition, the Descendants, where my segmented and pixelized images worked differently from various viewpoints.

Part of the intrigue of portraits generally is that how you look at them makes a difference: lighting, distance and viewpoint all have an effect. Last year I found that my pixelized images looked quite surprising when viewed from the side. It was a revelation.

Researchers have now applied the same sort of intrigue to the Mona Lisa’s smile. Apparently Lisa smiles more when you look at her obliquely or blur the image. When you engage with a straightforward stare, many folks find that her smile “disappears”. An example of how focus affects perception: too direct an image and you can’t see the woods for the trees. The elusive Mona Lisa Smile: read more about the study

I thought it might be interesting to see if I could coax some of my portraits to change expression in a similar way. I didn’t find any hidden smiles. What I did find is that the expression changed – the aggregation of space forming a new image or at least an altered perception. A hidden expression.

I think the researchers may have missed something: For me, a smile emanates from the eyes and blurring slightly narrows the gaze and creates a more sympathetic feeling. It’s said that you smile with your eyes. What do you think?!

Carolyn smiles...

Carolyn smiles…

Plein-air painting at Fairbairn House…

"August at Fairnbairn House" 14"x11", Watercolour and ink

“August at Fairbairn House” 14″x11″, Watercolour and ink

Our two plein air courses in Wakefield started at Fairbairn House: both Museum and Tourist Information Center – directly across the road from Wakefield’s famous covered bridge. The program included a tour of the museum, for those who could tear themselves away from the scenery that is…. easier the second week as weather was a tad damp.

Gimme Shelter!

Gimme Shelter!

Mara and her team at Fairbairn House made us very welcome. In appreciation, I presented an original watercolour sketch. In a couple of weeks, on the 30th of August, Fairbairn House is having their tenth anniversary party. France and I are planning to go and we hope to see you there! Fairbairn House and its environs are well worth a visit – don’t forget your sketch book. Check out the details at Fairbairn.ca.

Presenting my watercolour to Mara at Fairbairn House

Presenting my watercolour to Mara at Fairbairn House

You can also now find some pictures from our Wakefield sessions in the Workshop Galleries section of this blog: 4th to 6th August course and 11th to 13th August course, and on my (finally updated!) Facebook page.