Mabel May R.C.A.
signed with the artist’s address and titled Sketch on label to verso
Henrietta Mabel May was a member of the Beaver Hall Hill Group of painters, a collective of Montreal-based painters, most of whom had met at the Art Association of Montreal. They were joined as a group by their shared rejection of “isms” stated their first President, A.Y. Jackson, who also espoused individual expression as their chief concern. As a result of this, we find a wide variety of expression in the work of the Beaver Hall Group as a whole. A thread of continuity comes in the high quality of instruction they all had access to, and the fact that they had all studied under William Brymner (1855 – 1925), one of Canada’s most important art teachers at that time. Brymner was very encouraging of modernism, urging his students to follow new paths, to explore their own creatively to its fullest, not only to create something new, but to look at new things in order to aid in this creation. Mabel May was one of the first female students to study under him, and he introduced her to Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, that latter of which most obviously influences her work. She would travel to France in 1912, working there with famous Canadian ex-pat, James Wilson Morrice.
In her work, we have a fine sense of rhythm and movement, presented to us in rich and clear colours. She took inspiration from contemporary music, which at that time included the strong influence of modern jazz. This appealing out-the-window scene shows us laundry drying outside in winter – a task not easily accomplished – and is as jaunty and brightly optimistic as whomever it was that decided to dry their clothes in the sunlight of the cold Quebec winter.