Farm animal paintings by Kathleen Munn (1887-1974) from the mid-1910s, including Cows on a Hillside, 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, including the art of the German Expressionist painter Franz Marc (1880–1916) and others associated with the influential Blaue Reiter group. 

 

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.

 

Art Canada Institute, Kathleen Munn, Untitled (Cows on a Hillside), 1916
Kathleen Munn, Untitled (Cows on a Hillside), c. 1916
Oil on canvas, 76.3 x 101.7 cm, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto

The work of Kathleen Munn broadens our understanding of the modern art movement in Canada. As her contemporary Bertram Brooker explained, she distilled “the most modern and the most ancient art” into a stunning expression entirely her own. Munn is notable for experimenting with abstract art earlier than most other artists in Canada; her studies and wide-ranging explorations contribute to her originality.

 

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