Mary E. Wrinch, Spring Landscape (1908), watercolour on ivory, 8 x 11 cm. Gift of Joan and W. Ross Murray, 1983. Art Gallery of Windsor
“I’ve always been a person with one idea,” said artist Mary Evelyn Wrinch (1877–1969) in a 1940 interview. “I had no other ambition than to become an artist. It was the only thing I ever wanted to do.” For years, she would follow her passion fiercely and successfully. At other times, however, she was unable to capture the public’s attention.
Wrinch is the subject of the Ottawa Art Gallery’s (OAG) current exhibition, Female Self-Representation and the Public Trust: Mary E. Wrinch and the AGW Collection. Originally presented at the Art Gallery of Windsor (AGW) in 2012, the exhibition was inspired by AGW Director Catharine Mastin’s dissertation on artist-couple relationships in postwar Canada. In addition to highlighting Wrinch’s artistic talent in a variety of mediums, the exhibition thus explores her ambitious past, and her shift in priorities following her marriage to artist George A. Reid (1860–1947) in 1922.
Born in 1877 in Kirby-le-Soken, England, Wrinch settled in Canada in the late 1880s. She graduated from the Central Ontario School of Art (now OCAD) in 1893 and went on to further her art studies in London and New York. Wrinch became a member of the Ontario Society of Artists, the American Society of Miniature Painters and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, and embarked on a 35-year career as Art Director of Bishop Strachan School in Toronto. She also joined an artists’ colony in Toronto’s Wychwood Park, and when Reid’s first wife, artist Mary Hiester (1854–1922) died, Wrinch married Reid and moved into his hillside cottage in the park.
Mary E. Wrinch, Young Woman with Bonnet (Miss Alice Carter?) , watercolour on ivory, 19 x 7 cm. Gift of Joan and W. Ross Murray, 1983. Art Gallery of Windsor
Following her marriage to Reid, Wrinch donated several works of art from Wychwood Park to public art collections — including more than 140 of Hiester’s works — and organized the Mary Hiester Reid Memorial Exhibition. Wrinch also worked with AGW Director-Curator Kenneth Saltmarch (1920–2003) to exhibit a collection of Reid’s paintings. In an interview with NGC Magazine, OAG senior curator Michelle Gewurtz said that, as a result of these efforts, Wrinch’s own representation in public galleries and museums was delayed. “This exhibition is meant to redress that imbalance,” she says.
Although the exhibition features works by Wrinch alone, it also explores her dynamic relationship with Hiester and Reid. “I wanted to show Wrinch as the fine painter and printmaker that she was, while also highlighting the challenges that she faced in attending to her own artistic legacy,” Mastin said in an interview with NGC Magazine. “The story is so much bigger than what we see in this exhibition.”
The works on display are organized chronologically by medium, exploring the evolution of Wrinch’s artistic interests. The earliest works, Spring Landscape (1908) and Young Woman with Bonnet (Miss Alice Carter?) (1910), are intricate watercolours on ivory, demonstrating Wrinch’s early expertise in miniature painting. “Miniatures,” noted Gewurtz, “are something that we don’t often see, especially in the history of Canadian art.”
Mary E. Wrinch, Sawmill, Dorset (ca. 1926), oil on board, 84 x 86 cm. Gift of the artist, 1959. Art Gallery of Windsor
By the 1910s and 1920s, Wrinch was painting primarily in oils. She found inspiration in the natural landscape — both at Wychwood Park and at Lake of Bays, where she owned a summer cottage. Sawmill, Dorset (ca. 1926), for example, depicts a scene evoking the industrial expansion that eventually occurred near Wrinch’s summer home. “Although the date on this piece is later, we know from other examples that Wrinch was working with industrial subjects in the years 1906–1910,” says Mastin. “If we consider when the Group of Seven was doing this, we see that Wrinch was really ahead of her time.”
In addition to painting, Wrinch began experimenting with linocut prints in 1928. “There was a rise in the culture of printmaking in the early 20th century,” says Mastin. “I think that Wrinch very much wanted to be a part of that discussion.” Wrinch focused primarily on floral imagery, — first in black-and-white, and later in colour — inspired by the gardens at Wychwood Park. The bright and colourful linocut, Morning Glories (1935), is the final work in the exhibition, and showcases her printmaking skills. Rounding out this section is Wrinch’s Linoleum Block for Chanticleer (1937), along with interactive iPad tutorials for visitors unfamiliar with the linocut process.
Whereas some artists may specialize in a single technique, Wrinch excelled at many. The core of the exhibition explores the stark contrast between traditional Canadian landscapes and Wrinch’s skillful use of various mediums. “It’s strong work,” says Gewurtz. “The exhibition is about being introduced to a new artist and different mediums, expanding the view of Canadian art beyond landscape painting to miniatures, abstraction, and more.”
Mary E. Wrinch, Morning Glories (1935), colour linocut on paper, 41 x 32 cm. Gift of The Gordon Conn – Mary E. Wrinch Trust, 1970. Art Gallery of Windsor
“I really hope that people will come away with a stronger awareness of the quality of works that women were creating during the same era as associations like the Group of Seven,” says Mastin. “It’s important to profile the women who were leaving their mark on the Canadian art scene during the interwar years.”
Female Self-Representation and the Public Trust: Mary E. Wrinch and the AGW Collection is on view at the Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG) until August 16, 2015. For more information about the exhibition and the OAG’s expansion plans, please click here.
Shannon Moore is an Ottawa-based journalist specializing in writing about art and architecture.
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