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LOT 154

Helen Galloway McNicoll
1879 - 1915

Easter Lilies
oil on canvas, circa 1907
on verso titled on the stretcher and stamped twice on the canvas and once on the stretcher with the Studio Helen McNicoll estate stamp, #41
21 1/4 x 17 1/8 in 54 x 43.5 cm

Estimate: $175,000 - $225,000

Sold for: $280,800

Preview at: Heffel Vancouver

Acquired in the early 1950s from the Artist's sisters, Montreal
By descent to the present Private Collection, Toronto

Memorial Exhibition of Paintings by the Late Helen G. McNicoll, RBA, ARCA, The Art Association of Montreal, 1925, listed page 5
Natalie Luckyj, Helen McNicoll, A Canadian Impressionist, Art Gallery of Ontario, 1999, page 17 and a circa 1907 canvas with a similar model entitled The Little Worker, in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario, reproduced page 51

The Art Association of Montreal, Memorial Exhibition of Paintings by the Late Helen G. McNicoll, RBA, ARCA, November 7 - December 6, 1925, catalogue #41

In Helen McNicoll’s depiction of children is the essence of an innocent world that recalls late Victorian times, but seen through a more modern eye. McNicoll was from an upper middle class family in Montreal and had private means, but unlike others of her milieu, she used this freedom to pursue her painting, and was Natalie Luckyj relates that she was described as having an “aggressive and active intellect.” Before she began her art studies, McNicoll kept scrapbooks of paintings and illustrations with images of women and children, which reflected her deep interest in this subject. At the Art Association of Montreal, she took a class in life drawing from nude models. Her early teacher William Brymner emphasized the importance of working directly from nature and was opened a door to the new Impressionist style of painting.
By 1902, McNicoll was on her way to London to attend the Slade School of Art, home to a vital group of British modernist painters. Here she continued her figure studies and had further exposure to Impressionism, as well as to a more natural approach to subject which left behind the sentimentality of Victorian painting. In 1905, she enrolled in Julius Olsson’s School of Landscape and Sea Painting in St. Ives under Algernon Talmage, where painting en plein air was pursued. McNicoll honed her Impressionist style, depicting outdoor light with a fine handling of sunlight and shadow.
It was likely at St. Ives that McNicoll met British painter Dorothea Sharp, with whom she traveled and painted. At the turn of the century, the Suffragette movement was rising, and women’s roles were changing. Breaking traditional female stereotypes, they both practiced plein air painting, and it was of great assistance to McNicoll, who had been rendered deaf by a childhood illness, to have a companion while painting out of doors. Sharp also assisted with arrangements with McNicoll’s child models.
Easter Lilies, in which a young girl stands amidst a profusion of flowers, caught in an entirely natural, unselfconscious moment, embodies all the finest qualities of McNicoll’s work. The play of light through the flowers, particularly in the glowing white lilies, is exquisite. The mood of an idyllic moment in harmony with nature and the delicacy of the child’s peaceful contemplation envelops the viewer. The brushwork is fluid and assured, building a density of floral growth against a background of softer, more abstract strokes. McNicoll depicts what may be the same child model in a circa 1907 canvas entitled The Little Worker, in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario, in which the young girl walks across a sun-drenched field.
McNicoll’s significance is firmly established in Canada’s art history, and her work resonates strongly in contemporary times, as it continues to gather recognition amongst collectors for its intoxicating and sensual perception of light and colour. Her radiant images of women and children, both at work and at leisure, delight with their world of contemplation and the sensory pleasures of their everyday pursuits.
J.J. Warren, the father of the collector who acquired this painting from Helen McNicoll’s sisters in the early 1950s, was on the board of the Canadian Pacific Railway, as was McNicoll’s father, and the two families were friends. When the collector was visiting the McNicoll sisters, Dollie and May, in Montreal she was offered her choice of any of Helen’s paintings, then stored in the attic of their Westmount home. She chose this work - referred to in the family as “Girl Among the Lilies” - because it reminded her of her daughter Mary (the present consignor) as a child. This is the first time this painting has been offered on the market.

Estimate: $175,000 - $225,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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