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Helen McNicoll: Life & Work

By Samantha Burton
Hardcover, 128 pages,
Art Canada Institute, 2020
ISBN - 13:9781487102111

One of Canada’s most important Impressionist artists, Helen McNicoll achieved remarkable international success during a tragically short career. Remembered for her bright and sunny rural landscapes, charming child subjects, and modern female figures, McNicoll’s art helped introduce Canadians to the Impressionist movement at a time when it was still relatively unknown.

Born in Toronto and raised in Montreal, Helen McNicoll (1879–1915) achieved a great deal of international success in a brief career that lasted just over a decade. Although deaf from the age of two, McNicoll did not let personal hardship deter her from a career in art.

After training at the Art Association of Montreal, McNicoll moved to London, England, to pursue her passion as she travelled extensively through Europe. McNicoll relied on lip-reading to navigate through her life, and her art took on the unique perspective of an observer who understood isolation. She quickly became renowned overseas and in Canada for her luminous canvases that engage with issues such as femininity and domesticity, rural labour, fashion, and tourism. Elected to the Royal Society of British Artists in 1913 and the Royal Canadian Academy in 1914, McNicoll died in England in 1915 at the young age of 35.

Helen McNicoll: Life & Work explores the impressive and pioneering career of an artist who, until recently, has been relatively little known. Revered in her own day as technically advanced and “profoundly original,” at the time of her death McNicoll had exhibited over seventy works in exhibitions in Canada and England, some of which are published here for the first time.

Samantha Burton is a lecturer in the Department of Art History at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where she held a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship from 2013 to 2015. She earned her PhD from McGill University in 2012, receiving the Arts Insights award for best dissertation in the humanities and the Canadian Studies Network national dissertation prize.

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