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LOT 108

Helen Galloway McNicoll
1879 - 1915

Girl in the Field
oil on canvas, circa 1911
signed and on verso stamped with the Studio Helen McNicoll estate stamp
28 x 23 in 71.1 x 58.4 cm

Estimate: $60,000 - $80,000

Sold for: $67,250

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

Estate of the Artist
Private Collection, Ontario

Natalie Luckyj, Helen McNicoll: A Canadian Impressionist, Art Gallery of Ontario, 1999, page 17

Helen McNicoll’s depiction of children highlights 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. 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 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 that 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 practised 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.
In Girl in the Field, McNicoll captures her subject in an entirely natural, unselfconscious moment. The subject reflects her keen interest in the everyday life of women and children on rural farms. The work embodies McNicoll’s remarkable sensitivity to light and mood. The play of light and shadow across the field and under the trees is exquisite, particularly the splashes of sun across the figure. A feeling of gentle contemplation envelops the girl as she is caught in a moment of reverie. The brushwork is fluid and assured, and McNicoll’s pastel palette is dominated by a harmonious blend of green and gold tones, with contrasting highlights of pale blue in the sky and in the child’s headscarf.
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.

Estimate: $60,000 - $80,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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