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Helen McNicoll – The Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, Canada

10 Jun — 5 Jan 2025

The Helen McNicoll. An Impressionist Journey exhibition is the first Québec retrospective in a century of the Canadian impressionist painter’s work. Visitors can discover an artist whose destiny was at once incredible and fleeting, noteworthy for her outstanding mastery of light and atmospheric effects.




In the early 1900s, when women from well-to-do backgrounds were often confined to family and domestic life, Canadian Impressionist Helen McNicoll stood out for her love of travel and the discovery of new spaces.

She undoubtedly perceived her relationship to the world and her artistic output linked to fledgling tourism at the turn of the 20th century. Her favourite subjects were scenes of everyday life, although she succeeded in offering an interpretation distinct from the Impressionists in that she focused more extensively on women’s labour.

The Helen McNicoll. An Impressionist Journey exhibition presents more than 65 paintings by the artist, 25 of them from the Pierre Lassonde collection. Through the prism of travel, the exhibition thus examines the themes of female independence, risk-taking, friendship, and freedom for women in the stimulating context of the struggle by English suffragettes to win the right to vote.



Helen McNicoll was born in Toronto in 1879 and grew up in Montréal in a well-to-do environment conducive to artistic practice. Scarlet fever rendered her deaf when she was two years old and her parents encouraged her to develop her artistic and musical creativity despite her handicap.

She began her artistic training in the late 1890s with William Brymner at the Art Association of Montreal, then moved to England on his advice. She settled in London in 1902 and took courses at the Slade School of Fine Art, recognized for its avant-gardist precepts and its mixed instruction that promoted gender equality. She travelled in Europe and numerous exhibitions afforded her inside knowledge of developments in the realms of impressionism and post-impressionism. She began to exhibit her work at the Art Association in 1906 and received the first Jessie Dow Prize there in 1908.

Elected to the Royal Society of British Artists in 1913, then to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1914, she was a prominent Québec modern artist, although her works, exhibited regularly in contemporary exhibitions in Montréal and widely appreciated by critics at the time, remained for a long time in the shadow of other Canadian Impressionists.

She died in 1915 at the age of 35 following complications from diabetes. Ten years later, the Art Association of Montreal devoted a major retrospective exhibition to her encompassing more than 120 works.


The work hinges principally on the notion of travel. It focuses on most of McNicoll’s works exhibited, including those from Pierre Lassonde’s impressive collection.

Edited by the MNBAQ and 5 Continents Editions, the 160-page bilingual (English and French) catalogue is accompanied by four essays, each of which sheds light on a facet of the artist’s work.


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