Tuesday, March 29, 2016

History of Beaver Hall

Prudence Heward, At the Theatre, 1928
Best thing we did over the Easter holiday -- leaving aside the roast lamb, mmm -- was going to the Art Gallery of Hamilton's Beaver Hall Group show, entitled "1920s Modernism in Montreal."  It was developed by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and is now touring to the AGH, the Art Gallery of Windsor and the Glenbow in Calgary.

Mostly, you have never seen these paintings before. Most of the works in this show have been in private collections since they were painted, and the scholarship on them has been so limited that even the list of Beaver Hall members remains incomplete. Some active members have zero paintings for which the ownership and location is known today.

The Beaver Hall Group were a network of Montreal artists, as many women as men. They came together by renting joint studio space on Beaver Hall Hill in 1920, though they also shared common teachers and loosely similar artistic agendas.  While the Group of Seven -- A.Y. Jackson managed to be a member of both groups -- were reinventing landscape painting and North Canadian imagery in Toronto, the Beaver Hall group mostly painted urban scenes and nudes and luminous portraits. Even their landscapes generally have a portrait in them.  They are a very downtown bunch. We're not in north Algoma anymore.

So much for their history.  The thing is, their paintings are terrific.  Back then somebody sneered at them as jazz painters, and you can see the idea: jangly angles, bright stabs of colour, mixtures of abstraction and realism. And the portraits, jazz painting or not, are terrific, particularly Lilias Torrence Newton's and Edwin Holgate's.

If you can't see it, CBC Radio did a lively doc on the painters and the exhibition in February, still available online.

I was thinking about seeking a review copy of the catalogue, a handsome volume created by the Montreal curators.  But the book is published by some press in England, and it hardly seems worth the effort.  What's up with that, Canadian publishing?
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