Art and Rivalry

The unauthorized biography of Canada’s most famous artist couple and the rivalry that drove them.

She painted as if with pure light, radiant colours making quotidian kitchen scenes come alive with sublimated drama. He painted like clockwork, each stroke precise and measured with exquisite care, leaving no angle unchecked and no subtlety of tone unatteNded. Some would say Mary Pratt was fire and Christopher, ice. And yet Newfoundland’s Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera (or Jackson Pollack and Lee Krasner…) presented their marriage as a portrait of harmony and balance. But balance off the canvas rarely makes great art, and the Pratts’ art was spectacular.

As a youth at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Mary pursued her future husband, a prodigious art talent, and supported his determination to study painting instead of medicine. They married and removed themselves to a Newfoundland outport where his painting alone provided the means to raise a family. But as Mary’s own talents became evident and she sought her own hours at the easel, when not raising their four children, and as rumours of Christopher’s affair with a young model spread, the Pratts’ harmonious exterior slowly cracked, to scandal in Newfoundland and fascination across the country. A marriage ended, and gave way to a furious competition for dominance in Canadian art.

The Pursuit of Perfection

Born in 1921 to a working-class East London family, Celia Franca was an unlikely candidate for ballet greatness. Despite great odds, France became a star performer with the English Sadler’s Wells Ballet Company. When a Toronto group in 1951 invited her across the Atlantic to establish a national ballet company, she eagerly took on that challenge. The Pursuit of Perfection tells of the battles, heartbreaks, successes and international accolades shared by Celia Franca and the company she founded. 


The book was shortlisted in 2012 for the Governor-General’s literary award for Non-Fiction, The Charles Taylor Prize and selected by the Globe and Mail as one of the best 100 books.