"I think that of all the arts in Canada painting shows more vitality and has a stronger Canadian feeling... there is more interest shown in figure painting than previously and I hope we shall develop something interesting and Canadian in feeling, yet universal, modern, yet timeless."
(Prudence Heward, c. 1942)
The painter Prudence Heward was one of a small group of women artists who were active in Montreal between the wars. Although she also produced landscapes and still lifes, she was primarily known for her figure painting. Her portraits of physically robust but psychologically complex women challenged conventional representations of passivity; her women, always set in the landscape, appear independent and brooding, at times defiant.
Born into an artistic family, Heward took her first drawing lesson at the age of twelve and soon started painting at the Art Association of Montreal. After living out World War I in England, she returned to the Art Association from 1918 to 1920, studying under William Brymner and Randolph Hewton and exhibiting her work there while still a student. Among her classmates were Edwin Holgate, Sarah Robertson, Anne Savage and Lilias Torrance. For two summers, Heward painted with Maurice Cullen in the rural areas outside Montreal. In 1925, she went to Paris under a scholarship, studying under Charles Guérin and Bernard Naudin at the Académie Colarossi. There, she met another Canadian student, Isabel McLaughlin, with whom she became lifelong friends. The two returned to Paris in 1929 and took sketching classes at the Scandinavian Academy, before traveling together to the Mediterranean town of Cagnes. In subsequent years, Heward made numerous painting trips with McLaughlin and other friends, including Sarah Robertson and A. Y. Jackson, to the Heward summer home on the St. Lawrence, near Brockville, to northern Ontario, the Laurentians and Bermuda. In 1947, Heward died in Los Angeles, while seeking treatment for the asthma that had plagued her all her life.
Heward's oeuvre shows considerable coherence, both in quality and in style, with relatively subtle variations. Always a representational painter, Heward used bold, rich colours to create simplified shapes and strongly modeled forms. Girl on a Hill (1928), with its characteristic portrayal of a young woman who appears physically strong but inwardly vulnerable, won the first Willingdon Prize in 1929, and Rollande (1929) won international recognition in traveling exhibitions. Heward's work done immediately after her 1929 trip to France reveals the influence of Cézanne, Matisse and Henri Rousseau. Farmhouse and Car (c. 1933) demonstrates the rhythmic forms of Heward's landscapes, while Fruit in the Grass (1939) exemplifies her approach to still lifes, which she integrates with the landscape.
Heward's works were selected for numerous international exhibitions, including the British Empire Exhibition, London, 1925, and the Exposition d'art canadien, Paris, 1927.She was invited to exhibit her work with the Group of Seven in 1928 and again in 1931, and held her first solo exhibition in 1932 at the Scott Galleries, Montreal. The National Gallery of Canada held a memorial exhibition in 1948, the year following her death. Heward was associated with the Beaver Hall Group; she was a founding member of the Canadian Group of Painters and Contemporary Arts Society, and a member of the Federation of Canadian Artists.