“Prudence Heward’s piece The Bather is the most controversial painting she created. It features a woman who was viewed as ‘unladylike’ and ‘unrefined’ because of how the model was positioned, and how she looked. Prudence faced a lot of negativity and critical feedback for her painting; however I always admired this piece. Prudence had always been criticized for the women she painted because they ‘lacked beauty.’ While I believe beauty is subjective as do many others, I wanted to portray how I felt about her paintings, because I didn’t want to perpetuate the long-ingrained belief that western beauty standards for women were the most feminine and desirable. Growing up as a person of colour, I felt like the ‘ideal beauty’ was unreachable to me because of how enforced Eurocentric beauty standards were on me as a child. Through social media and entertainment, features like upturned noses, slim faces and fair skin were seen as the most feminine. I wanted to show how both models side by side were beautiful and though one of them fits that western beauty standard more, they both have unique beautiful features that captivate the eye, making both of them in their own right ‘beautiful.’”
—Saanvi Rai (Grade 9, Craig Kielburger Secondary School, Milton, Ontario)
Celebrated predominantly for her bold, psychologically complex portraits, Prudence Heward (1896–1947) was a central figure in the Montreal art world, unmatched in her provocative, defiant depictions of modern women in the inter-war years.