Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Beaver Hall Hill Group of Montreal Painters

Nora Collyer Landscapes, clipped off Google. 

I've been writing about art for a New York City based organization and this week, for International Women's Day, I wrote about Women and Art.

Which got me to thinking about Montreal artists, again.

I've written here about Mary Riter Hamilton, the Canadian Impressionist painter. In my book, Diary of a Confirmed Spinster, (based on Edith Nicholson's situation in 1910) I have Edith faint in the Montreal Art Association building at Phillip's Square. She sees a picture called Maternity by Riter Hamilton, a picture of a woman breastfeeding - and it suddenly hits her that she will never marry or have children.

.Image result for maternity riter hamilton tighsolas
Riter Hamilton in Maclean's 1910

Anyway, Riter Hamilton was famous in her day. Maclean's did a piece on her. She had been to Paris and even exhibited at one of their salons. She is quoted as saying she doesn't paint 'grotesque' things like so many of the other impressionist painters.

Riter Hamilton today is practically forgotten, but it appears a group of women artists, Montreal artists, is enjoying a resurgence of popularity.

I'm talking about the Beaver Hall Group, that was started up by A Y Jackson, but which included many women who worked out of the Montreal Art Association Building. (Diary of a Confirmed Spinster has an exact description of that place. I found it in a McGill Thesis.)

Years ago the National Film Board did a film about the Women of the Beaver Hall Group, By Women's Hand.

(It's not available for viewing online.)

There's a Wikipedia listing about them too. (Always important. This past International Women's Day a group of artists had a Wikipedia-thon, out of MoMA in NY, adding listings about women artists to that website.)


There's a new book coming out in December 2015 about the Group, coinciding with an exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts,  The Beaver Hall Group: 1920's Modernity.

Some of the paintings by this group are selling for goodly amounts, I can see.

Take Nora Collyer, a Montrealer who painted the Eastern Townships. I can see that her impressionist (and expressionist) paintings are selling very well - and she painted a lot of them. One sold for over 60,000 lately.

Collyer has a Wikipedia listing, too.  She was born in 1898 and died in 1979, a contemporary of Flora Nicholson of Threshold Girl, who also painted but didn't bother painting around her home, Tighsolas. Too bad!

If I were to put pictures on my Tighsolas Books (all about a family in the Eastern Townships) I would use Collyer's. She sure captures the essence of the place.

Many artists of the Beaver Hall Group painted the city, which is nice. "Women paint what they know. They don't have to go up North," said Anne Savage, another member of the group, in an interview later in life. She was, of course, referring to the Group of Seven and their masculine mystique.

Oddly, Collyer was more popular in the first half of the century. The National Gallery exhibited her works in 1969. Collyer was still alive then. She died in 1979.

Perhaps this had something to do with the evolving politics of Quebec. This Beaver Hall Group was mostly English. Possibly...Or maybe this is because Serious Women Painters just get no respect, which was the subject of my article for the NY organization.

My own Aunt Cecile attended the Beaux Arts in Montreal in the 30's and won first prize. (I have her medal somewhere.)

Oh, here it is. 1936 Cours Superieure Premiere Prix.Oil painting.


She painted mostly religious still lifes. Lugubrious stuff.   She had technique but, apparently, a teacher said she had to go out and live a little.  As far as I know she was part of no group. She was French Canadian. She spent a lot of time in Ogunquit, though.

A ripped painting of Aunt Flo by my Aunt Cecile. Aunt Cecile painted 'before the times' instead of with the times or ahead of the times.  That's why I have so many art nouveau vases. She hated them and gave them to Flo who gave them to me.