Who Is Kathleen Munn?
Because I admire rebels, few artists have intrigued me to the same degree as the talented Canadian pioneer of modern art, Kathleen Jean Munn. Born into a Toronto family in 1887, Munn benefited from her family’s support in both her artistic education and career. Munn developed a devotion to international modernism as she traveled to New York and Europe in the 1920s. She admired the works of Paul Cezanne, and “her style had evolved from the loose colourful brushwork of Impressionism to the more hard-edge geometric fragmentation of natural form”. Georgiana Uhlyarik writes,
“Munn will always be a mystery—
and this makes her all the more irresistible.”
Kathleen Munn’s story is complex because she is a brilliant rebel whose accomplishments were often not recognized in her own time. I want to understand more about her life and her art by retelling some of her story while analyzing three main paintings (in a three part posting) that illustrate her evolution as an artist. Georgiana Uhlyarik writes, “Continual experimentation and refinement are at the core of her work, whether it was in her bold use of colour, advanced abstracts, or black ink and graphite drawings.
Evolution of Technique Begins
According to Georgiana Uhlyarik (1972) in the online book Kathleen Munn, Life and Work, “Munn’s farm animal paintings from the mid-1910s signaled a dramatic evolution in her work: her animals graze in carefully arranged kaleidoscopes of bold colours and are unlike any painted in Canada at the time.”
Cows on a Hillside was completed in 1916. Uhlyarik (1972) writes, “This work is closely related to those of contemporary German Expressionist painter Franz Marc (1880–1916) and others associated with the influential Blaue Reiter group.” For example, compare Cows on a Hillside, 1916 to Franz Marc, The Dream, 1912.
Click for Media View:
Uhlyarik describes Cows on a Hillside:
Here Munn builds the image in an unusual way—using a pattern of flat rectangular patches of colour laid down to create a unified surface—to achieve a sense of space, while maintaining a tremendous naturalness in the animals’ depiction. Especially delightful is her rendering of the cow’s backside, just right of centre in the painting.(Uhlyarik, 1972)
I ask you, dear readers,
how many times have you heard an artist
praised for the delightful rendering
of a cow’s backside? 😉
Munn Explores Synchromist Color Theory
Strident colour began to dominate her painting: she was influenced by her explorations of Synchromist colour theory and by the work of Stanton Macdonald-Wright (1890–1973) and her teacher Max Weber (1881–1961), both proponents of the use of colour to define form and release paintings from a literal description. (Uhlyarik,1972)
How Did Critics Appraise Munn’s Work?
Unfortunately, the art world in Toronto at the time Kathleen Munn practiced and exhibited did not embrace these new ideas warmly. Frederick Housser writes at that time that Munn is “probably the only painter in Canada whose canvases show an interest in cubism”, not a popular style among the conservative Canadian audience during Munn’s active career.
Art critic Newton MacTavish’s description of her work in 1925 is typical: “Perhaps she is too far advanced for the average conception, for some of her best work is in danger of being misunderstood.”(ACI)
Click For Enlarged View:
Best viewed At Sunnyside
- Kathleen Jean Munn (1887-1974)
- Cows on a Hillside
- c. 1916
- oil on canvas
- Overall: 76.3 x 101.7 cm (30 1/16 x 40 1/16 in.)
- Signed BL, printed in black oil paint: K. MUNN
- Credit Line:Purchased with funds donated by Susan and Greg Latremoille, Toronto, 2006 © Estate of Kathleen Munn
- Image Credit: Art Gallery of Ontario
- Link: https://ago.ca/collection/object/2006/85
To Be Continued: Future Posts
I have many questions remaining:
- How did Kathleen Munn respond to the criticism?
- What other influences compelled her experimentation?
- Was Kathleen Munn acquainted with Emily Carr?
- Why is so little known of her life outside of what her art tells us?
…….to be continued in Part 2 of 3
- Georgiana Uhlyarik, Kathleen Munn, Life and Work, 1972, Art Canada Institute, https://www.aci-iac.ca/art-books/kathleen-munn (accessed 2 Jan 2019).
- “Art Canada Institute – Institut de l’art canadien”. http://www.aci-iac.ca. (accessed 2 Jan 2019).
- Wikipedia contributors, “Kathleen Munn,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Kathleen_Munn&oldid=872993408 (accessed January 2, 2019).
Kathleen Munn, Life and Work by Georgiana Uhlyarik
Georgiana Uhlyarik is Fredrik S. Eaton Curator, Canadian Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario and adjunct faculty in the graduate program in art history at York University. She wrote Kathleen Munn, Life and Work, made available from the Canadian Online Art Book Project through Art Canada Institute. ***Excellent – and free for online reading and download 🙂
Thanks for Reading! 🙂