Untitled (Cows on a Hillside) c. 1916
Kathleen Munn, Untitled (Cows on a Hillside), c. 1916
Oil on canvas, 76.3 x 101.7 cm
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
Here Munn builds the image in an unusual way—using a pattern of flat rectangular patches of colour laid down to create a unified surface—to achieve a sense of space, while maintaining a tremendous naturalness in the animals’ depiction. Especially delightful is her rendering of the cow’s backside, just right of centre in the painting.
This work is closely related to those of contemporary German Expressionist painter Franz Marc (1880–1916) and others associated with the influential Blaue Reiter group. Munn’s farm animal paintings from the mid-1910s signalled a dramatic evolution in her work: her animals graze in carefully arranged kaleidoscopes of bold colours and are unlike any painted in Canada at the time. During her studies in New York and her frequent visits to galleries and museums there, she was exposed to the most advanced art of her time. Strident colour began to dominate her painting: she was influenced by her explorations of Synchromist colour theory and by the work of Stanton Macdonald-Wright (1890–1973) and her teacher Max Weber (1881–1961), both proponents of the use of colour to define form and release paintings from a literal description.