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Adrien Hébert, Saint Catherine Street

Adrien Hébert, Saint Catherine Street (1926), oil on canvas [Glenbow, Calgary AB, Oct 22-Jan 29]

1920s Modernism in Montreal: The Beaver Hall Group

Glenbow
Calgary AB – Oct 22, 2016-Jan 29, 2017

Prudence Heward, At the Theatre

Prudence Heward, At the Theatre (1928) oil on canvas [Glenbow, Calgary AB, Oct 22-Jan 29]

Edwin Holgate, Self-portrait

Edwin Holgate, Self-portrait (1934) oil on wood [Glenbow, Calgary AB, Oct 22-Jan 29]

Prudence Heward, The Immigrants

Prudence Heward, The Immigrants (1928) oil on canvas [Glenbow, Calgary AB, Oct 22-Jan 29] Photo: Sean Weaver

Lilias Torrance Newton, Frances McCall

Lilias Torrance Newton, Frances McCall (about 1931), oil on canvas [Glenbow, Calgary AB, Oct 22-Jan 29] © National Gallery of Canada

Canada does not have as many schools of art as those found in older countries like Japan or France. But it has a few. The Ontario-based Group of Seven of the 1920s and ’30s springs to mind. And for those partial to Surrealism and Abstraction, Montreal’s Les Automatistes of the 1940s. A lesser-known Montreal affiliation that paralleled the Group of Seven was the Beaver Hall Group.

Organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, this exhibition of mostly oil paintings takes its name from the downtown street where members Edwin Holgate, Mabel Lockerby and others shared studio space. As one might expect from a group that came together in the late 1910s, its collected works provide a newsreel of a country transitioning from an Edwardian-era former British colony to a modern nation with modern attributes.

Like the Group of Seven, the Beaver Hall Group painted landscapes – but peopled landscapes, with colours associated with the Jazz Age. Like Les Automatistes, they explored Abstraction and blended it with Figuration. But the biggest distinction the group can lay claim to is that its core membership was comprised of both genders, and this too is reflected in a subject matter that includes an emergent metropolis and the tensions that arise between economic and cultural development.

Michael Turner


 Sun, Nov 6, 2016