One of the most important Impressionist artists in Canada, Helen McNicoll (1879–1915) achieved a great deal of international success in a career that lasted just over a decade. Born in Toronto and raised in Montreal, McNicoll trained at the Art Association of Montreal before moving to London, England, to pursue her passion. Deaf from the age of two, the artist travelled extensively across Europe and was well-regarded at home and abroad for her bright and sunny representations of rural landscapes, charming child subjects, and modern female figures. 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.
“McNicoll maintained a strong attachment to the fundamental principles of ‘pure’ Impressionism and pushed the style further than any other Canadian artist.”Samantha Burton
Helen McNicoll: Life & Work explores the impressive career of an artist who, until recently, has been relatively little known to the public. Celebrated 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. The book describes the artist’s life from her early years in Montreal, examining the possibilities and limitations faced by a professional woman artist in the years just before the First World War, to McNicoll’s significant role in the transmission of Impressionism to Canada. Using her luminous canvases to discuss issues such as femininity and domesticity, rural labour, fashion, and tourism, the book reveals McNicoll’s body of work as diverse, complicated, and surprisingly modern.
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.
Banner: Helen McNicoll, The Chintz Sofa, 1913, oil on canvas, 81.3 x 99.1 cm, private collection.
Portrait: Photograph of Helen McNicoll in her studio at the art school in St. Ives, photographer unknown, The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa.