Mary Alexandra Bell Eastlake
(Douglas, Ontario, 1864 – Ottawa 1951)
Oil on canvas
63.5 x 53.2 cm
Purchased in 2003, Horsley and Annie Townsend Bequest
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 2003.61
Photo: MMFA, Christine Guest
In The Annunciation, Mary Alexandra Bell Eastlake addresses a well-known religious theme in an unusual manner. The Virgin Mary’s plain clothing recalls that of a peasant woman, and the red colour of her cape is surprising. The artist has chosen to signify Mary’s holiness with a simple golden outline around her hair. By outlining the background vegetation in the same way, she suggests a connection between the Virgin and nature. In this highly modern work, the artist forgoes geometric perspective and favours large, vigorously worked areas of flat colour. The focal point is Mary’s pensive gaze, irresistibly drawing the viewer’s eye.
An avid traveller, Mary Alexandra Bell studied art in Montréal before pursuing her training in New York and Paris. In 1893, she settled in England, in the Cornish town of St Ives, joining a colony of artists who, far from the capitals of art, enjoyed great creative freedom. It was there that she met and, in 1897, married the English landscape painter Charles Herbert Eastlake (active 1889-1930). She exhibited in Canada, the United States and Europe with the various associations to which she belonged. Her works feature a rich palette of colours and most often portray of female characters and children.