Blind Contour Drawing #8 “Girl on a Hill “ Prudence Heward 1929
Despite the popularity of landscape painting during her lifetime, Prudence Heward was a Canadian painter primarily known for her figure painting of defiant women.
She used bold and rich colours that challenged conventional representations of passivity and created portraits of complex, brooding and independent modern women. Many of her subjects returned the viewer’s gaze. She also painted nude subjects and one painting titled “Hester” (1937) of a naked black woman provoked hostile reactions in the press.
Born into a wealthy family, Heward took her first drawing lesson at the age of twelve and soon started painting at the Art Association of Montreal. After living out World War I in England as a volunteer with the Red Cross, she returned to the Art Association in 1918.
For two summers, Heward painted with Maurice Cullen in the rural areas outside Montreal. In 1925, she went to Paris under a scholarship. There, she met another Canadian student, Isabel McLaughlin, who became her lifelong friend. The two returned to Paris in 1929 and took sketching classes at the Scandinavian Academy, before traveling together to the Mediterranean town of Cagnes.
Heward’s first major success was in 1929 when she won first prize at the Willingdon Arts Competition for “Girl on a Hill.” This piece depicts the modern dancer Louise McLea. It is remarkably modern for McLea is posing with dirty bare feet and is challenging you with her gaze.
Heward’s works were selected for numerous international exhibitions. She was invited to exhibit her work with the Group of Seven in 1928 and again in 1931, and held her first solo exhibition in 1932 at the Scott Galleries, Montreal.
She was associated with the Beaver Hall Group; a founding member of the Canadian Group of Painters and Contemporary Arts Society, and a member of the Federation of Canadian Artists.
In 1947, Heward died at age 50 in Los Angeles, while seeking treatment for the asthma that had plagued her all her life. While frail in a physical sense, she was as robust and defiant as many of her subjects when it came to her dedication to her work. Her work continues to draw attention from art historians due to the issues she revealed about class, gender and race in Canadian society.
The National Gallery of Canada held a memorial exhibition in 1948, the year following her death.
Born Montreal, Quebec July 2 1896
Died Los Angeles, California, March 19 1947