One of the foremost Canadian female practitioners of Impressionism in her time, Helen Galloway McNicoll is known for her sunlight-infused genre paintings of women and children in rural environments.
Born in Toronto in 1879, her family later moved to Montreal where she studied painting under William Brymner at the Art Association of Montreal.
McNicoll was unique in relation to other female artists at the time, as being the daughter of the vice president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, she was able to further her art education by traveling to England to study at both the Slade School of Art in London and at St. Ives in Cornwall, and to divide the duration of her lifetime between Montreal and England. It was in England that McNicoll met British Impressionist Dorothea Sharp, with whom she was to develop a close and long-lasting friendship.
One of the few artists during an age of artistic experimentation to paint using the fresh, clear chromatics and anecdotal themes associated with Impressionism, McNicoll exhibited with the Royal Society of British Artists beginning in 1913, becoming a full member of the society in the same year. In Canada, McNicoll was elected a member of the RCA in 1914, after having shown her work with the academy since 1906.
Particularly adept at capturing tranquility, McNicoll’s paintings were renowned for their portrayals of contemporary life imbued with an atmosphere of peace and stillness. It has been speculated that this heightened visual perception may have been a result of her deafness caused by a bout of scarlet fever in childhood.
In 1915 McNicoll’s career and life was cut short by illness, and she passed away at the young age of 35 from the effects of diabetes.