Some time in the late 1970s, Newfoundland artist Christopher Pratt inexplicably gave his wife, fellow artist Mary Pratt, slides of nude images of his favourite teenaged model and not-so-secret lover.
Mary knew of the affair, which started when Donna Meaney was only 16, but it was never officially acknowledged at the Pratts’ home in the rural Salmonier area of Newfoundland.
So, why did Christopher give the slides to Mary? And why did Mary decide to create a series of paintings of the nude teenager based on the slides? Was this part of a longstanding rivalry between two artists who happened to be married to each other — the husband personifying “ice” and the wife “fire?”
Those questions are posed in a revealing new book about the Pratts’ tempestuous marriage, Canada’s answer to the on-again, off-again love affair between two of Mexico’s greatest 20th century artists, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Art and Rivalry: The Marriage of Mary and Christopher Pratt (Knopf Canada) is authored by Carol Bishop-Gwyn, who penned a terrific biography of Ottawa dance maven Celia Franca in 2011. The Pursuit of Perfection: A Life of Celia Franca charmed the critics and was nominated for various awards. The Pratts constitute a far more complex story.

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