BlogSeptember 24, 2009

Lilias Torrance Newton Captures the Psychology of her Sitters


Lilias Torrance Newton, Le Guide Millette, 1939, oil on canvas.

Provenance: Private Collection, Phillipsburg, Quebec; by descent private collection Montreal.

Exhibitions: Art Association of Montreal, Lilias Newton Solo Exhibition, October 27 - November 12, 1939.



We are proud to present this truly outstanding painting Le Guide Millette, 1939 by Lilias Torrance Newton. This masterpiece is not only, in our opinion, among her finest works but also has a history that until now is intertwined with the social network of friendship, support and encouragement between women that is synonymous with the Beaver Hall Group story, a story that continues to be the subject of research by Canadian art historians.


Whereas a commissioned portrait would imply certain restraints or inhibitions, insofar as Millette would have had neither the financial ability nor interest to commission her and more likely posed for her at the expense of the artist, Lilias Newton has accomplished for her own account a composition capturing the psychology and physique of a type of "Canadien" and described him for immortality in his working and living environment.


At the outbreak of WWI one of Lilias Torrance Newton’s brothers was engaged to Mlle Boucher, a young French teacher who had came to Canada from France with her sister. Some years later upon meeting an English lady who was seeking to open a private girls school in Montreal, Mlle Boucher joined with her to open The Study School for Girls in its original location on Drummond Street (just up the street from our Gallery here) with an initial enrollment of 6 students. Tragically Lilias’ brother was killed in the war but Mlle Boucher and Lilias Newton remained in touch throughout their lives. Mlle Boucher subsequently married, albeit briefly, and had purchased a home in Phillipsburg, Quebec, on the Vermont border where she regularly received visitors, usually women artists or women friends interested in art in its various forms.


Many were simply delighted to escape the city for a weekend in the country at the 5 bedroom house with a lovely garden where the guests spent much of their time. Occasionally a guest would leave a gift in gratitude for Mme. Gaudion's (Mlle Boucher's married name) friendship and hospitality, a gesture several of the women artists extended. Ethel Seath, Kathleen Morris and, of course, Lilias Newton were among the Beaver Hall Group ladies who left paintings in the house. We have previously seen Mabel May paintings of the Phillipsburg area and can only speculate that she too was likely a guest. A lovely Berthe Des Clayes pastel there suggests that she too may have been there at one time or another.


A regular guest at Phillipsburg was Miss Louise MacFarlane whose family had a property in the St Adolphe D’Howard area of the Laurentians at Lac St Joseph where Lilias Torrance Newton stayed in 1939. It was there that she painted two of what are, in our opinion, among her finest works; this composition "Le Guide Millette", the game keeper and warden of the lake, and "Maurice" an equally masterful and often reproduced composition belonging to Hart House at University of Toronto. Upon the passing of Mme Gaudion the Phillipsburg house was given to one of the frequent guests, a charming and most charitable lady who only recently because of various infirmities and loss of her independence was obliged to sell it to stay in the city close to medical care.

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