AGO’s Cassatt-McNicoll: Impressionists Between Worlds is a summer must-see exhibition in Toronto

June 6, 2023
Guest Contribution by Vlada Klymenko (photography)

And it’s here: Art Gallery of Ontario presents a new exhibition, dedicated to female Impressionist artists, an American Mary Cassatt and a Canadian Helen McNicoll. Although these two painters belong to different generations, the show showcases them in parallel as they share many similarities in their art and their lives.

Mary Stevenson Cassatt was born in Allegheny (now part of Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania in 1844. She received some training at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, but shortly afterwards relocated and lived most of her life in Paris. Helen McNicoll was born in Toronto in 1879, studied at the Arts Association in Montreal, and afterwards moved to London, U.K. They were both from wealthy families and took advantage of an opportunity to travel to Europe. The exhibition beautifully showcases how traveling, particularly on the steamship, enabled them to cross the Atlantic and the role it played in both of their careers.

According to the exhibition, “as the daughter of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s (CPR) vice-president, McNicoll had easy access to transatlantic passage and travelled almost exclusively on their line”. AGO proudly owns all the 13 sketchbooks by McNicoll, full of drawings of fellow passengers on her journeys, presented throughout the exhibition.

Casatt and McNicoll portray women as active and engaged subjects in their works: women artists, women readers, working women. When they explore topics of motherhood, they showcase an active mother, who is engaging with a child or is reading, or is portrayed as a carrier of knowledge for a new generation. The viewer is also reminded that in those times it was incredibly challenging for a woman to have a career, especially in the arts, and to lead an independent life. Notably, both artists never married, nor had children.

The show is an inspiring and eye-opening exhibition for appreciation of women artists. It is also a treat for all the lovers of Impressionism, which in its heyday had become widespread and popular in North America thanks to both Mary Cassatt and Helen McNicoll.

The exhibition is on view now. Exclusive Members’ Access: May 31 – June 2. Annual Passholders and General Admission: June 3, June 4 and daily from 11:30 am beginning Tuesday, June 6. It will run until September 4, 2023. Art Gallery of Ontario is located at 317 Dundas Street West, Toronto, Ontario.


Story by Darina Granik

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