Prudence Heward Life & Work by Julia Skelly

Heward exhibited frequently during her lifetime, and she often received positive reviews, though some of her figure paintings, such as The Bather and Hester, both 1937, provoked hostile reactions from the press. In the early 1920s, she regularly showed work at the Art Association of Montreal, and she later exhibited with the Beaver Hall Group, the Group of Seven, the Canadian Group of Painters, and the Contemporary Arts Society. Her first solo exhibition took place in 1932 at W. Scott & Sons Gallery in Montreal, and she exhibited both nationally and internationally.

Key Exhibitions

Installation view of the memorial exhibition of Heward’s paintings organized by the National Gallery in 1948. The works are Still Life, n.d., Barbara, 1933, Efa, 1941, Portrait (Mrs. Zimmerman), 1943, Portrait Study, 1938, and Farmhouse Window, 1938


1925, British Empire Exhibition, Wembley.


1928, Group of Seven exhibition, Art Gallery of Toronto.


1930, Group of Seven exhibition, Art Gallery of Toronto and Art Association of Montreal.


1931, Group of Seven exhibition, Art Gallery of Toronto.


1932, first solo exhibition, W. Scott & Sons Gallery, Montreal.


1938, A Century of Canadian Art, Tate Gallery, London.


March 4, 1948–August 31, 1949, Memorial Exhibition, Prudence Heward, 1896–1947, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, among other locations.


January 31–March 2, 1975, Canadian Painting in the Thirties, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.


December 12, 1975–February 1, 1976, From Women’s Eyes, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston.


July 15–August 26, 1979, Prudence Heward and Friends, Art Gallery of Windsor.


March 1–April 27, 1986, Expressions of Will: The Art of Prudence Heward, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston.

Important Reviews

Autumn 1950 issue of Canadian Art magazine, which featured Prudence Heward’s painting Farmer’s Daughter, 1945. Though Heward is not mentioned in any of the articles in this issue, her painting was likely chosen for the cover to acknowledge her influence, even after her death

Heward began to receive attention in the art press as early as 1914, when she was included in the Spring Exhibition at the Art Association of Montreal, and she continued to be noted in reviews of group shows both in Canada and internationally throughout her life. A.Y. Jackson (1882–1974), among others, reviewed her first solo exhibition in 1932, and Paul Duval was only one of many art critics who reviewed Heward’s memorial exhibition in 1948.

Ayre, Robert. “Significant Exhibition at Toronto by Diligent Canadian Group of Painters ‘Bristling with Signs of the Times,’” Toronto Standard, November 18, 1939.

Duval, Paul. “Art and Artists: Prudence Heward Show.” Toronto Saturday Night, April 24, 1948.

Holgate, Edwin. “Prudence Heward.” Canadian Art 4 (Summer 1947): 160–61.

Jackson, A.Y. “Paintings by Prudence Heward Placed on Exhibition in Montreal.” Toronto Star, April 27, 1932.

For links to scanned exhibition reviews as well as a selected bibliography, search the Canadian Women Artists History Initiative (CWAHI) database.

Secondary Literature

Heward is usually featured in surveys of Canadian art and books on Canadian women artists. Since her death in 1947, several exhibitions have included her paintings; some of the exhibitions were concerned with Canadian painting generally, some with specific artists’ groups such as the Beaver Hall Group, while yet others were dedicated to Heward exclusively. The resulting exhibition catalogues are important sources for those interested in Heward’s work.

Cover of the publication The Women of Beaver Hall written by Evelyn Walters and published in 2005. The book includes sections on Heward and fellow artists Emily Coonan, Nora Collyer, Mabel Lockerby, Mabel May, Sarah Robertson, Anne Savage, and Ethel Seath

Braide, Janet. Prudence Heward (1896–1947): An Introduction to Her Life and Work. Montreal: Walter Klinkhoff Gallery, 1980. Exhibition catalogue.

Grafftey, Heward. Portraits from a Life. Montreal: Véhicule Press, 1996.

Hill, Charles C. Canadian Painting in the Thirties. Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 1975. Exhibition catalogue.

Lerner, Loren. “From Victorian Girl Reader to Modern Woman Artist: Reading and Seeing in the Paintings of the Canadian Girl by William Brymner, Emily Coonan, and Prudence Heward.” Canadian Children’s Literature 33, no. 2 (2007): 19–50.

McCullough, Norah. The Beaver Hall Hill Group. Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 1966. Exhibition catalogue.

Meadowcroft, Barbara. Painting Friends: The Beaver Hall Women Painters. Montreal: Véhicule Press, 1999.

Murray, Joan. Canadian Art in the Twentieth Century. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1999.

National Gallery of Canada. Memorial Exhibition: Prudence Heward, 1896–1947. Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 1948.

Photograph of Heward painting en plein air around Brockville, c. 1920

Newlands, Anne. Canadian Art: From Its Beginnings to 2000. Richmond Hill, ON: Firefly Books, 2000.

Pageot, Edith-Anne. “The Ambiguous Critical Reception of the Exhibition ‘Canadian Women Artists’ at the Riverside Museum, New York, 1947.” RACAR 27, nos. 1–2 (2000): 123–34.

Reid, Dennis. A Concise History of Canadian Painting. 3rd ed. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Tippett, Maria. By a Lady: Celebrating Three Centuries of Art by Canadian Women. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 1993.

Walters, Evelyn. The Women of Beaver Hall: Canadian Modernist Painters. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2005.

Whitelaw, Anne, Brian Foss, and Sandra Paikowsky, eds. The Visual Arts in Canada: The Twentieth Century. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Critical Interpretations

In 1975 feminist art historians Dorothy Farr and Natalie Luckyj organized an exhibition on Canadian women painters at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston, and they included Heward in the show. In 1986 Luckyj curated an exhibition at the Centre dedicated exclusively to Heward. The accompanying catalogue, Expressions of Will, is one of the first to be written about a Canadian artist from a feminist perspective. More recently, art historian Charmaine Nelson has highlighted issues related to race in Heward’s depictions of black women.

Cover of exhibition catalogue Expressions of Will: The Art of Prudence Heward curated by Natalie Luckyj for the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in 1986

Emeny, Shirley Kathleen. “Plurality and Agency: Portraits of Women by Prudence Heward.” MA thesis, University of Alberta, 1999.

Farr, Dorothy, and Natalie Luckyj. From Women’s Eyes: Women Painters in Canada. Kingston, ON: Agnes Etherington Art Centre, 1975. Exhibition catalogue.

Grandbois, Michèle, Anna Hudson, and Esther Trépanier. The Nude in Modern Canadian Art, 1920–1950. Quebec: Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, 2009. Exhibition catalogue.

Luckyj, Natalie. Expressions of Will: The Art of Prudence Heward. Kingston, ON: Agnes Etherington Art Centre, 1986. Exhibition catalogue.

Nelson, Charmaine A. Representing the Black Female Subject in Western Art. New York: Routledge, 2010.

Powell, Grace. “Challenging the Status Quo: Prudence Heward’s Portrayals of Canadian Women from the 1920s to the 1940s.” MA thesis, Concordia University, 2008.


In 1994 the National Film Board released By Woman’s Hand, which focuses on three women artists living and working in Montreal in the early twentieth century: Heward, Sarah Robertson (1891–1948), and Anne Savage (1896–1971).

Ferrari, Pepita, and Erna Duffie, dirs. By Woman’s Hand. National Film Board of Canada, 1994. 57 min.


Heward was born in Montreal, and several of her paintings are in the collection of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, as well as archival material. However, the Prudence Heward Fonds—which includes six sketchbooks, photographs, and Heward’s palette, among other items—is held at the National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives, Ottawa. Another rich resource is the Isabel McLaughlin Fonds at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, which includes many letters Heward wrote to McLaughlin.

Cover of the exhibition catalogue From Women’s Eyes organized by Dorothy Farr and Natalie Luckyj for the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in 1976 to celebrate International Women’s Year in 1975

Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston—Isabel McLaughlin Fonds

Art Gallery of Ontario—Edward P. Taylor Research Library and Archives

Canadian Women Artists History Initiative Documentation Centre, Montreal

Edmonton Art Gallery—Library

Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa

London Public Library, ON

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal—Media Centre

Museum of Modern Art, New York

National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa—Library and Archives

University of British Columbia—Fine Arts Library

Vancouver Art Gallery—Library

Winnipeg Art Gallery—Clara Lander Library

Further Reading

The original cover design for George Bernard Shaw's The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God published in 1932 with illustrations by John Farleigh

At the time of her death in 1947, Heward had several books on modern art in her personal library, including texts by Roger Fry and Robert Henri. She also had a copy of The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God by playwright George Bernard Shaw. Heward was greatly influenced by her teacher at the Art Association of Montreal, William Brymner (1855–1925). The following texts serve to contextualize Heward’s oeuvre.

Boutilier, Alicia, and Paul Maréchal, eds. William Brymner: Artist, Teacher, Colleague. Kingston, ON: Agnes Etherington Art Centre, 2010. Exhibition catalogue.

Fry, Roger. Cézanne: A Study of His Development. New York: Noonday Press, 1963.

. Transformations: Critical and Speculative Essays on Art. London: Chatto & Windus, 1926.

. Vision and Design. London: Chatto & Windus, 1920.

Shaw, George Bernard. The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God. London: Constable & Co., 1932.

Wardle, Marian, ed. American Women Modernists: The Legacy of Robert Henri, 1910–1945. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Museum of Art; New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005. Exhibition catalogue.

The Canadian Women Artists History Initiative

Concordia University, Montreal, founded in 2007.

The Canadian Women Artists History Initiative (CWAHI) is a collaborative network that brings resources and researchers together in order to foster scholarship on historical women artists in Canada. The Initiative’s focus is on the period before 1967, as well as on women artists who were born before 1925. CWAHI has a documentation centre based at Concordia University in Montreal, an artist database online that provides biographical details and extensive bibliographies, and an online reviews database of scanned periodical reviews, offering researchers easy access to primary documents.