This painting shows a mother sitting on the edge of a bed, watching over her sleeping child. The mother is cast in shadow, while the child is bathed in white light. A book and a pharmacy bottle can be seen on the bedside table.

Laura Muntz Lyall

(Radford, England, 1860 – Toronto 1930)


The Watcher


Oil on canvas

71.1 x 91.4 cm

Private collection

Photo: courtesy of Sotheby’s, Toronto

In The Watcher, by Laura Muntz Lyall, a mother sits on a bed watching over her sleeping child. The bottle on the bedside table suggests the child is ill. The artist creates a chiaroscuro effect with a strong contrast between the two figures. The atmospheric treatment of light heightens the sense of intimacy and drama that emanates from the scene. Muntz Lyall worked in a realistic style to portray themes of motherhood and childhood, which were very popular in England and Canada during the Victorian era.

Laura Muntz Lyall immigrated to Canada with her family as a child. As a young woman, she taught school to pay for her art training. In 1892, she went to France to study at Académie Colarossi. After she received an honourable mention at the Paris Salon in 1895, her portrayals of women and children attracted wide attention. Returning to Canada, Muntz Lyall opened a studio in Toronto, where she gave art classes. In 1909, she became the first woman invited to exhibit with the Canadian Art Club. When her sister died, leaving eleven children, she took time away from painting in order to raise them.

Private collection