Efa Prudence Heward, painter (born 2 July 1896 in Montréal, QC; died 19 March 1947 in Los Angeles, California). Heward specialized in portraits of women, despite the popularity of landscape painting during her lifetime. She is recognized for her sculptural forms, defiant female subjects and expressionistic colours. She lived temporarily in London, England, studied in Paris, France, and travelled to Italy; her knowledge of modern European art influenced her figurative paintings.

Early Life, Artistic Training and Travel

Efa Prudence Heward was born into a wealthy Montréal family. She was the sixth of eight children born to Sarah Efa Jones and Arthur R.G. Heward. The family lived in a large home in Montréal, and they summered at Fernbank, near Brockville, Ontario. Later in life, Heward often went to Fernbank with artist friends, including Sarah Robertson, Isabel McLaughlin and A.Y. Jackson, for sketching picnics.

Heward was a frail child and suffered from asthma throughout her life. In 1912, when Heward was 16, her family experienced a series of shocks. On 16 May, her father died, and less than a week later her sister Dorothy died in childbirth. Another sister, Barbara, died in October at the age of 20. The following year her brother Jim contracted tuberculosis. Heward’s brothers went to Europe to fight in the First World War in 1914. Heward, her mother, and her sister Honor followed not long after, working for the Red Cross in England until the end of the war.

Following her return from Europe, Heward re-enrolled at the Art Association of Montreal (AAM) in 1919 and studied under William Brymner and Randolph Hewton. At the AAM, Heward met fellow artists Edwin Holgate, Lilias Torrance Newton and Sarah Robertson, among others.

Heward began to have professional success as an artist in the early 1920s. She placed second in a competition for the Reford Prize for painting at the AAM in 1922. She also won both the Reford Prize and the Women’s Art Society Prize for painting as a student in the advanced class of the AAM in 1924. Following those successes, she travelled to London for the first time since the end of the First World War. In 1925, Heward took classes in Paris at the Académie Colarossi, where she was taught by Charles Guérin, who had been a pupil of Gustave Moreau, one of Henri Matisse’s teachers. She also studied drawing at the École des Beaux-Arts under Bernard Naudin. Heward’s training in France, though brief, influenced her art practice throughout her life.

In early 1930, she returned to Paris and travelled to Italy with her new friend, Canadian artist Isabel McLaughlin. Heward produced several small oil sketches of Venetian scenes during this trip as well as during her previous trip to Europe, such as Venice (1926).

Career Highlights

Prudence Heward’s first major professional success was in 1929 when she won first prizeat the Willingdon Arts Competition for Girl on a Hill (National Gallery of Canada), a work that depicts the modern dancer Louise McLea. Heward painted both white and black women, but she only produced one well-known white female nude, the Art Gallery of Hamilton’s Girl Under a Tree (1931). Her black female subjects are portrayed either naked or partially dressed, for instance the Art Gallery of Windsor’s Girl in the Window (1941).

Although Heward specialized in figure painting, she also painted landscapes and still lifes and she was invited to exhibit with the Group of Seven in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In 1930, her works At the Theatre (1928) and The Emigrants (1928) were part of a Group of Seven exhibition, and in 1931 three of her paintings — Girl Under a Tree, Cagnes and Street in Cagnes — were included in a Group of Seven exhibition at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the Art Gallery of Ontario).

Heward was affiliated with the Montréal-based Beaver Hall Group (1920–21), which was a significant artistic collective comprised primarily, though not exclusively, of professional female artists. Although she was not an official member — she did not share studio space with them, as she had her own studio on the top floor of the Peel Street house that she shared with her mother — Heward did exhibit with the Beaver Hall Group. She was also co-founder and vice president (1933–39) of the Canadian Group of Painters and a founding member of the Contemporary Arts Society in 1939. She was involved with the Contemporary Arts Society until 1944. In 1941, Heward attended the Kingston conference that gave rise to the Federation of Canadian Artists. The conference was organized by André Biéler and held at Queen’s University. (See also Artists' Organizations.)

Key Exhibitions, Scholarship and Archives

Prudence Heward exhibited frequently during her lifetime and she often received positive reviews — although some of her figure paintings, such as The Bather (1930) (Art Gallery of Windsor) and the Agnes Etherington Art Centre’s Hester (1937) (one of her paintings depicting a naked black woman), provoked hostile reactions in the press. Her first solo exhibition took place in 1932 at W. Scott & SonsGalleryin Montréal. Her art was also included in international exhibitions.

When Heward died in 1947 (she had stopped painting in 1945 due to illness), a memorial exhibition was organized. A.Y. Jackson (1882–1974) wrote the catalogue essay and Anne Savage (1896–1971) gave the keynote address at the opening reception in Montréal on 13 May 1948. In that address, Savage remarked: “Not since the days of J.W. Morrice has any native Montréaler brought such distinction to her native city, and never before has such a contribution been made by a woman.” The exhibition travelled to nine Canadian cities during its 16-month tour.

In 1975, feminist art historians Dorothy Farr and Natalie Luckyj organized an exhibition on Canadian women painters at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston, Ontario, and included Heward in the show. In 1986, Luckyj curated an exhibition at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre dedicated exclusively to Heward. The accompanying catalogue, Expressions of Will: The Art of Prudence Heward, was one of the first monographs to be written about a Canadian artist from a feminist perspective. Due largely to these feminist exhibitions and accompanying catalogues, Heward is now recognized as an important modern artist of the early 20th century. Her paintings continue to garner attention from art historians concerned not only with Canadian art but also with issues of class, gender and race.

There are several of Heward’s paintings in the collection of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, as well as some archival material. The Prudence Heward fonds, another rich resource — which includes six sketchbooks, photographs and Heward’s palette, among other items — is held at the National Gallery of Canada library and archives, Ottawa. A rich resource is the Isabel McLaughlin fonds at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston, Ontario; these archives include many letters that Heward wrote to McLaughlin.