Efa Prudence Heward
1896 - 1947
BHG CAS CGP
Prudence Heward was born in Montreal in 1896. She was encouraged to study art at an early age by her supportive family, taking lessons at the Art Association of Montreal under William Brymner beginning in 1909, and proved her skill by winning awards for excellence there in 1911 and 1912 as well as the school’s Robert Reford Prize for the best painting by a student in 1916. During World War I the Heward family went to England where Prudence worked with her mother for the Red Cross. Upon her return to Montreal in 1919, she resumed her art education at the AAM under Randolph Hewton, winning the Robert Reford Prize again in 1923 and 1924, as well as the Women’s Art Society award, also in 1924.
It was at the AAM that she met Sarah Robertson, Ethel Seath and Kathleen Morris, women with whom she would remain friends throughout her life. All of them had joined the Beaver Hall Group in about 1920, a group so named because of their studio rooms in an old house on Beaver Hall Hill in downtown Montreal. The buildings of the area around it appear often in the work of this modernist group that also included André Biéler, Emily Coonan, Robert Pilot, Anne Savage, Albert Robinson, Lilas Torrance Newton and others. The Hill area takes its name from the estate of Joseph Frobisher, who built an expansive home there in about 1792, having made his fortune in the beaver pelt fur trade. The house also served as a gallery, and the group mounted exhibitions of their work in the main floor spaces, the first taking place in January of 1921. A.Y. Jackson was also part of this group; he introduced Beaver Hall painters to members of the Group of Seven, Heward in particular, who was invited to show with the Group in 1928, 1930 and 1931. Jackson stated, "In my opinion, she was the very best painter we ever had in Canada...I wanted her to join the Group of Seven, but like the Twelve Apostles, no women were included."
In addition to exhibiting, Heward continued her art education, taking plein air painting classes with Maurice Cullen during the summers and returning to London and Paris in 1925, enrolling at the Académie Colarossi and later the École des Beaux-Arts under Bernard Naudin. She returned to Canada at the end of 1925, but would make one further trip to Paris in 1928 with Isabel McLaughlin, and studied at the Académie Scandinave. In 1928, she painted the important work Girl on a Hill, which was awarded the pan-Canadian Willingdon Prize and acquired by the National Gallery of Canada the following year. W. Scott & Sons in Montreal mounted a solo show of her work in 1932, and after her death in 1947 several retrospectives were devoted to her work, including one at the National Gallery of Canada.
As well as being part of the Beaver Hall Group, Heward was a founding member of the Canadian Group of Painters and the Contemporary Arts Society of Montreal, as well as a member of the Federation of Canadian Artists. Her work is represented in several important public collections in Canada, including the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Hart House Permanent collection. She was particularly known for her sensitive and bold depictions of the figure.