Eye-opening AGO exhibition celebrates the extraordinary art and bold lives of Impressionist painters Mary Cassatt and Helen McNicoll

First major presentation of Cassatt paintings and prints in Canada, exhibition considers how both artists helped spread Impressionism in North America  

TORONTO — Opening at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) on May 31, 2023, Cassatt – McNicoll: Impressionists Between Worlds is a revelatory portrait of artistic ambition, showcasing the talents and impact of Mary Cassatt and Helen McNicoll, Impressionist painters whose lives were as unconventional as their paintings were bold. Featuring 50 paintings and works on paper, alongside sketchbooks and archival materials, Cassatt – McNicoll: Impressionists Between Worlds, marks the first major presentation of paintings and prints by Mary Cassatt in Canada. Curated by Dr. Caroline Shields, the AGO’s Curator of European Art, the exhibition is organized by the AGO, home to the largest public collection of McNicoll’s work in the world.  

At a moment when most women were denied advanced art education and professional recognition, Cassatt (American, 1844-1926) and McNicoll (Canadian, 1879-1915), crossed the Atlantic to pursue careers as professional artists. Their beautifully detailed paintings and novel compositions challenged expectations of what a painting should look like and how women were portrayed. Working in what was then the radical style of Impressionism – an approach emphasizing colour, light and everyday subjects – their highly constructed paintings dared to present women and children as dynamic subjects with rich interior lives. In posing female models at work and in contemplation, caregiving and resting, indoors and out, they gave visual form to the modern woman.

Cassatt and McNicoll’s paintings celebrate womanhood on its own terms. In addition to their sheer beauty, these artworks are alive with underlying tension - between one’s birthplace and chosen home, between the professional and the domestic, between social expectations and personal ambitions,” says Dr. Caroline Shields, AGO Curator, European Art. “Their success was made possible by the growth of transatlantic travel and the impact of their work in North America supports a broader, more global understanding of Impressionism – as a style that wasn’t limited to Paris but was activated by cross-cultural exchange. We are so proud to bring Cassatt to Canada and to showcase McNicoll’s artistic achievement.”

Organized thematically, Cassatt – McNicoll: Impressionists Between Worlds is the first exhibition to feature these two North American artists side by side. Spotlighting their shared pursuit of professional status, the exhibition highlights their unique approaches to art and life, from their networking strategies, to the ways they composed and exhibited their paintings.  

Cassatt settled in Paris in 1874 and by 1879 had become the only North American member of the Impressionist circle. A painter who also worked in printmaking and pastels, she continued to exhibit in the United States, serving as an art-advisor to many art collectors and museums there. Highlights of the exhibition include Young Girl at a Window (c. 1883-1884) on loan from the National Gallery of Art, On a Balcony (c.1878-79) on loan from the Art Institute of Chicago, The Cup of Tea (c. 1880-81) from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, and 11 exquisitely coloured prints from the National Gallery of Canada.

A generation apart, McNicoll arrived in London in 1902. She travelled extensively across Europe, using her London studio as a home base. She exhibited her paintings in England and Canada, and was elected to both the Royal Society of British Artists and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. Highlighting the AGO’s leadership in the study, collection and presentation of McNicoll, the exhibition features her intimate sunlit bedroom scene Interior (c. 1913) and the recently conserved oil on canvas, White Sunshade #2 (c. 1912), alongside loans including The Victorian Dress (1914) from the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Under the Shadow of the Tent (1913) from the Montreal of Museum of Fine Art, and rarely seen works from private collections.

Cassatt’s and McNicoll’s careers were made possible by the commercial availability of transatlantic travel. The exhibition presents a selection of archival materials from the University of British Columbia Rare Books and Special Collections, including promotional pamphlets and passenger manifests, illustrating this moment in commercial transportation history.

Cassatt – McNicoll: Impressionists Between Worlds is accompanied by a 152 page hardcover catalogue, edited by Caroline Shields, and featuring essays by Nicole Georgopulos, Samantha Burton, and Julie Nash. Co-published by AGO and Goose Lane Editions, the $45 catalogue will be available in shopAGO beginning May 31.

Admission to Cassatt – McNicoll: Impressionists Between Worlds is free for all Indigenous peoples, AGO Members, Annual Pass holders and visitors aged 25 and under. AGO Members see it first beginning May 31, 2023. Annual Pass holders and the public can see the exhibition beginning June 3, 2023.  For more details on how to book your tickets or to become a Member or Annual Passholder, visit ago.ca.

Programming Highlights:

Beginning Wednesday, June 1, 2023, at 2 p.m., the AGO presents the film Mary Cassatt: Painting the Modern Woman by director Ali Ray in Jackman Hall. Advanced tickets required. AGO Members receive a discount. For full screening schedule and tickets, visit ago.ca/events/mary-cassatt-painting-modern-woman.

On Wednesday, June 14, 2023, at 7 p.m. art historians Nicole Georgopulos and Samantha Burton join Caroline Shields, Curator, European Art, in Jackman Hall for a panel discussion on the art of Mary Cassatt and Helen McNicoll, entitled Impressionists Between Worlds. Advanced tickets required. AGO Members receive a discount. For more details and to reserve tickets, visit ago.ca/events/panel-impressionists-between-worlds.

On Friday, June 23, 2023, from 7 to 9 p.m. AGO Curator of European Art Caroline Shields delivers her curator talk in Baillie Court about the original AGO exhibition Cassatt – McNicoll: Impressionists Between Worlds. Advanced tickets required. AGO Members receive a discount. For more details and to reserve tickets visit ago.ca/events/curators-talk-impressionists-between-worlds.

On Tuesday, July 11, 2023, at 10 a.m. the AGO’s Senior Social program returns for art-making and conversation, inspired by the intimate interiors of Canadian Impressionist painter Helen McNicoll. Advanced tickets are required for this live Zoom event. AGO Members receive a discount. For more details and to register, visit ago.ca/events/seniors-social-intimate-interiors.

Mary Cassatt was born in Pittsburgh in 1844 to a wealthy family. Following training at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, she relocated to Paris to further her studies. Cassatt travelled briefly to Italy, Spain, Belgium and Holland before settling permanently in Paris, where she was often joined by members of her family. She was the only North American artist to exhibit with the French Impressionists, showing in four of their eight official exhibitions. Cassatt became known for her nuanced portrayals of modern women characterized by vigorous brushwork. She worked alongside dealers and prominent art collectors, advocating in favour of modern art purchases that would later form major American collections. Despite her success, and the important role she played as an art advisor, her work is vastly underrepresented in Canada, as no Canadian museum owns a painting by Cassatt.

Born in Toronto in 1879, Helen McNicoll soon moved to Montreal with her affluent family. She studied at the Art Association of Montreal before leaving permanently for Europe, continuing her training at the Slade School of Art in London and the Cornish School of Landscape, Figure, and Sea Painting at St. Ives. McNicoll’s travels throughout the artist colonies of England and France were interspersed with return trips to Canada to visit family. She constructed her tour de force Impressionist paintings of women and children through vivid strokes of paint in vibrant colours. She was elected an associate member of the Royal Society of British Artists in 1913 and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1914, signaling the recognition she earned both abroad and at home in her lifetime. Equally adept at depicting landscapes, genre scenes and figures, McNicoll’s paintings remain some of the greatest examples of Impressionism in Canada.

Cassatt – McNicoll: Impressionists Between Worlds is organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario.

@AGOToronto | #seeAGO   

The exhibition is generously supported by:

Supporting Sponsor
Heffel Fine Art Auction House 

Lead Support
Tim & Frances Price
The Shevlen Family Foundation

Generous Support
David Cottingham & Kathryn Wyatt Cottingham
Marion & Gerald Soloway
Elizabeth Tory

Supported by the Government of Canada/Avec l’appui du gouvernement du Canada

Located in Toronto, the Art Gallery of Ontario is one of the largest art museums in North America, attracting approximately one million visitors annually. The AGO Collection of more than 120,000 works of art ranges from cutting-edge contemporary art to significant works by Indigenous and Canadian artists to European masterpieces. The AGO presents wide-ranging exhibitions and programs, including solo exhibitions and acquisitions by diverse and underrepresented artists from around the world. The AGO is committed to being welcoming and accessible: admission is free for anyone under 25 years, and anyone can purchase an annual pass for $35. In 2022, the AGO began the design phase of an expansion project intended to increase exhibition space for the museum’s growing modern and contemporary collection. When construction begins in 2024, it will be the seventh expansion that the AGO has undertaken since it was founded in 1900.  Visit AGO.ca to learn more.

The AGO is funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Additional operating support is received from the City of Toronto, the Canada Council for the Arts and generous contributions from AGO Members, donors and private-sector partners.


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