Assuredly the most reclusive member of the Beaver Hall Group, Emily lived with her family in Point St. Charles. Emily was the only one of the Group who was not a part of the Montreal Protestant elite. She was a devout Roman Catholic with strong opinions and of Irish heritage. She was described by Lilias Torrance Newton as "A very odd, shy strange person... a real loner: Emily never actually made friends with her fellow painters and only exhibited for a short time between 1908-1930. It has been difficult to find paintings by Emily Coonan because her production was limited and she did not exhibit after 1930. There was some speculation that she had a disagreement with the Art Association of Montreal. By that time she had three paintings in the National Gallery of Canada. Because she was such a private person, perhaps she felt she no longer needed to expose herself to any unwarranted criticism or attention.|
Although the Coonans were not wealthy, they strove to give their children a good education and made sure that money was made available for music or art lessons. At the Art Association of Montreal, where Coonan studied from 1905 until 1912, she became William Brymner's star pupil. With his encouragement, Emily and Henrietta Mabel May traveled to France, Belgium and Holland in 1912 where they painted all the time.
Coonan won several awards during her short professional career. The most important of these was probably a traveling grant awarded to her by the National Gallery of Canada that permitted her to return to France for a second time. She was the first to win the award in 1914, but the trip had to be postponed until 1920 due to the outbreak of WWI.
If it can be said that she experienced a certain degree of success between 1900 an 1915, things were different when she returned from that second trip to Europe. Critics were perhaps unready for her modernistic approach and the influence of France's impressionists and post-impressionists the appeared in her work. she had become less concerned with her subjects or of nature, and more with motifs and texture. "Art for art" remained her approach right up until the end.
Coonan admired the Impressionists and the works of James Wilson Morrice. Her preferred subject matter included portraits, interiors and groups of children. By 1920 her figurative work began to show Modernist influences as her backgrounds became devoid of detail, accessories were eliminated and faces were simplified. Although Emily had been invited to exhibit with the Group of Seven, her paintings were mostly impressionistic landscapes a la francaise and not at all of a Canadian vision.
Emily Coonan lived the first eighty-three years of her life on Farm Street, where she had been born.
Source: "Groupe Beaver Hall" (2007) catalogue for the exhibition of works by the Beaver Hall Women, presented at Galerie Walter Klinkhoff and Bishop's University. For the complete text, please contact us.
© Mary Trudel and Galerie Walter Klinkhoff Inc.
Emily Coonan Exhibitions at Klinkhoff
BEAVER HALL HILL GROUP
26th Annual Retrospective Exhibition, 1999
BEAVER HALL GROUP
Exhibition for the Auxiliary of the Montreal Chest Institute
April 25 - 28, 2007
Contact us to buy the illustrated, limited edition catalogue