BlogOctober 3, 2019

Henrietta Mabel May, A Modern in Canadian Art

This Still Life with Fruit lends itself to being demonstrative of the story of the Beaver Hall Group women. The convention for a women to stay close to home to find subject matter leads her no farther than the kitchen and dining room, as opposed to “the boys” heading out in the boxcar to Algoma. Her bold and strong colours certainly position May as a modern in Canadian art.


H. Mabel May, A.R.C.A. 1877-1971
Still Life with fruit
Oil on board


Kinsman Robinson Galleries, Toronto;

Acquired from the above by the present owner, January 1987.


Mabel May is perhaps best known as a founding member of Montreal’s Beaver Hall Group. Born in Montreal, in 1877 she studied art with William Brymner at the Art Association of Montreal from 1909-1912. May then travelled to Paris with Emily Coonan and was influenced by the work of the Impressionists. She also travelled to Northern France, Belgium, Holland, London, Edinburgh and Glasgow.


In 1916, May became an associate of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. In 1918, she painted several canvases for the Canadian War Memorial, depicting women working in ammunition factories. As indicated above, May was one of the founding members of the Beaver Hall Group and in 1933 became a founding member of the Canadian Group of Painters. She was appointed supervisor of children's classes at the National Gallery of Canada in 1938. She was a regular exhibitor in the Art Association of Montreal and Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts from 1910 and on for more than four decades.


In 1950, May retired to Vancouver where was held a retrospective show and sale of one hundred of her paintings. She died in 1971 at the age of ninety-four.


Another important composition by May, Knitting, just recently sold by Alan Klinkhoff Gallery is included in Canada and Impressionism: New Horizons 1880-1930, an important exhibition presently touring to three museums in Europe before coming to Canada’s National Gallery.  


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