Canadian landscape painter Lawren P. Harris told Mary Pratt in the early days of her career that if two artists were to wed, only one would become a success. In her case, Harris declared, that title would obviously go to Mary’s husband, Christopher Pratt. Of course, history would prove Harris wrong, as recalled in journalist Carol Bishop-Gwyn’s Art and Rivalry, a fascinating chronicle of the Pratts’ personal and artistic lives. Decades later, Mary’s astonishingly realistic paintings of domestic scenes became as lauded as Christopher’s geometrically precise Newfoundland vistas.
Mary, who died in 2018, attended Mount Allison University where she studied under Harris and Alex Colville. It’s also where she met the serious-minded Christopher Pratt, a rising artist with a deep devotion to his native Newfoundland. For the first part of their marriage, Mary supported Christopher’s career, overseeing the household while he worked in isolation. She would snatch painting time whenever she could, years before pursuing her own full-time career.
Bishop-Gwyn recalls the Pratts’ marriage woes not to wallow in the salacious details (of which there are many) but rather to demonstrate how the relationship affected their artistic output. It was Christopher, after all, who took the photo that was the basis for Mary’s first professional painting, “Supper Table.”
Although Bishop-Gwyn is not a formal art expert, her deep research and accessible style provide a fresh perspective into the Pratts’ most iconic works. It’s also clear Bishop-Gwyn admires and respects her subjects, having spent time in both their studios.
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