Edith Hester Macdonald-Brown
(Africville, Nova Scotia, about 1880 – Africville, Nova Scotia, 1956)
Oil on canvas
49.3 x 74.9 cm
Collection of Mrs. Geraldine Parker
Photo: Joey Yazer
This untitled painting by the African-Canadian artist Edith Hester Macdonald-Brown portrays a small herd of cattle in a verdant mountainside meadow. Replete with colours and textures, the picturesque scene is typical of the Romantic landscapes in vogue at the time. However, the cattle that dominate the foreground seem to hint at vestiges of colonization. Might not the triumphant bull be a metaphor for territorial conquest? This sparsely documented work bears witness to the little-known existence of African-Canadian art production at the turn of the 20th century.
Edith Hester Macdonald-Brown grew up in a middle-class family in Africville, near Halifax, Nova Scotia. After studying art in Montréal, she returned to her hometown to paint. Only four of her works have survived: three landscapes and a still life, preserved by her granddaughter, Geraldine Parker. They are believed to be the first oil paintings by a black woman in the history of Canadian art. A fifth work, Sweet Peas (1911), whereabouts unknown, was part of the exhibition In This Place: Black Art of Nova Scotia (1998), produced by the Anna Leonowens Gallery.