In this seaside scene, two women dressed in white and blue sit in the shade of a tent. In the background, a beach dotted with a few figures and birds stretches to a sliver of ocean.

Helen Galloway McNicoll

(Toronto 1879 – Swanage, England, 1915)

 

Under the Shadow of the Tent

1914
Oil on canvas

83.5 x 101.2 cm

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David McNicoll, 1915

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1915.122. 

Photo: MMFA, Brian Merrett 


In the Shadow of the Tent exemplifies Helen Galloway McNicoll’s work with light and the vibrancy of colour. In the foreground, rays of sunshine filter through the tent fabric to illuminate the two women’s white garments. On the lap of the woman with a hat is a sketch-box easel typically used by painters working outdoors. This picture represents the new reality of women artists who, strongly influenced by Impressionism, were turning to subjects beyond the home. In this respect, the work reflects the redefining of women’s role that was then taking place with the Suffragettes and other social movements.


After studying in Montréal, Helen Galloway McNicoll spent most of her career abroad, mainly in England, where she focused on women and children in the countryside and at the shore. McNicoll shared her life with the British painter Dorothea Sharp (1874-1955), with whom she lived, travelled and worked. Deaf since the age of two as a result of scarlet fever, she died prematurely at age thirty-six from complications related to diabetes. Her work was not widely collected during her lifetime, but it gained new interest in the 1970s when the McNicoll family put many of her canvases up for sale.

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Helen Galloway McNicoll’s particular focus on scenes of rural life distinguishes much of her art from that of her contemporaries, such as Florence Carlyle and Laura Muntz Lyall. Unlike those artists, who tended to portray the idle rich, McNicoll often depicted women and children busy with country chores like picking apples or flowers, feeding livestock, harvesting hay or mending clothes. In The Apple Gatherer, the cheeks of the woman at work are reddened by the sun, whose rays pierce the apple tree’s foliage here and there, illuminating her clothing and the grass at her feet.

Helen Galloway McNicoll

(Toronto 1879 – Swanage, England, 1915)

 

The Apple Gatherer

about 1911

Oil on canvas

106.8 x 92.2 cm

Gift of G. C. Mutch, Esq., in memory of his mother, Annie Elizabeth Mutch, 1957

Art Gallery of Hamilton, 57.87.O

Photo: Robert McNair