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Historic Art | Pegi Nicol MacLeod

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Tenement Windows c.1946

Technique: oil on canvas

Dimensions: 33 x 24 in.

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ex. West End Art Gallery, Montreal

In 1937 Pegi Nicol MacLeod and her husband moved from Toronto to New York City. She found lots of inspiration in the city, on the busy streets and right outside her studio window. Pegi often travelled back to Canada in the summers to paint and during the Second World War she was commissioned to paint scenes of the Women’s division of Armed Forces.

Following the Second World War she returned to depicting the scenes of New York City and in 1947 exhibited her oil and watercolour paintings in Toronto, Ottawa, and Fredericton under the title “Manhattan Cycle.” The “Manhattan Cycle” focused on the people and scenes around MacLeod’s apartment on East 88th Street in New York. She wrote to her friend and fellow artist, Isabel McLaughlin in 1946 that she had been involved with 88th street for six years and still found it fascinating. The “Manhattan Cycle” consisted of 110 artworks by 1947 and was the first time MacLeod exhibited a series of works in Canada focused entirely on her time in New York. The “Cycle” also toured to the Winnipeg School of Art at the request of Joe Plaskett and then on to Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton, Victoria, and Vancouver in 1948.

Pegi described her style as “kaleidoscope visions”. Her strongest works were full of swirls of curving lines and dynamic colours, which had a sense of energy and immediacy. These paintings offered a glimpse of everyday life around her, crowded city street scenes, people at work, and the bustle of daily life. Tenement Windows is a great example of this, with the swirls of people, windows, and bricks painted in bright oranges, reds, and blue.

About the Artist

Pegi Nicol MacLeod was among Canada's most prominent artists during the second quarter of the twentieth century. In her short lifetime she showed her paintings extensively across the country, alongside the likes of A.Y. Jackson and the rest of the Group of Seven. She won prestigious national art prizes and received important commissions, including one for war art from the National Gallery of Canada. She was a founder of, and a respected teacher at, a summer art school at the University of New Brunswick.

Committed to being an artist above all else, Pegi gained respect as an artist in an almost exclusively male milieu. That she was able to achieve her goal attests to her talent and her single-minded commitment. Pegi painted what she saw and felt in the landscapes and cityscapes, the people and objects around her. Her muses were found in whatever environment she happened to be in. Housebound with a new baby in a New York City tenement in the late 1930s, she painted her child and the changing scenes outside her window. Wherever she was, Pegi painted constantly and almost compulsively: for her, art was equivalent to life. Whatever their subject matter, her paintings observe the immediate sensory pleasure and, occasionally, the pain of day-to-day living. Symbol-infused, highly personal self-portraits, and paintings of the activities of female WW II reservists and tenement apartment neighbours pulsate with a vitality that extends beyond the edges of the works. Her life was cut short by cancer in 1949, while living in New York City.
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