Female painters come out of the shadows

Victoria College of Art course features 20th century gems

Paul Peregal

With the world celebrating International Women’s Day this week, the timing of a new course at the Victoria College of Art is rather impeccable.

Great Women Painters of the 20th Century, entering its third week of class today (March 7), is the brainchild of instructor Paul Peregal. A teacher of modern-era painting technique and history at the college, he chose the subject matter as a way to shed light on a largely under-acknowledged area of the arts world.

“What was happening in my classes was that I would include the vast majority of masters of the 20th century, and they were men, but there were many women also (in that era) who weren’t getting quite the coverage that they should have,” he says. “A lot of my students asked me to present more women.”

Peregal touches on a different artist or group of painters each week. Among his subjects are early 20th century artist Pegi Nicol McLeod. She was an award-winning painter in her time, Peregal notes, and gained notoriety through her association with the National Gallery in Ottawa.

“She died tragically at 45 in New York and with the exception of a memorial show (well after her death), she drifted into obscurity,” he says.

Peregal generally lectures about an artist and presents examples of their work, but also touches on “the very philosophy and politics of the times and what influenced them to do these things.”

The tricky thing about teaching a course on relatively unknown artists, he says, is finding background materials.

“When you research these women, very often you find a complete lack of information. By comparison, there’s plenty of books on male painters of the era, but if you start looking around for other names, it’s not easy to get hold of a large catalogue, resumé, or a coffee table book with a wealth of colour reproductions.”

Notable artists such as Emily Carr and Georgia O’Keefe are also covered by the course. Both have distinctive styles that continue to captivate art lovers, unlike some of more overshadowed painters being featured, such as Vanessa Bell (last week’s subject), Alice Neil and Joan Mitchell.

VCA grad Deirdre Kelly, who is enrolled in Peregal’s class, is interested in the modernist movement of the late 19th and early 20th century. She was keen to broaden her knowledge of the work of women artists, as it relates to her own painting.

“I have been interested in people like Emily Carr, but who else was there?” she asks. “I’ll be doing my own research afterward on the topic.”

The college offers the classes in six- or 12-week packages. For more information on the course or any other college offerings, visit www.vca.ca or call 250-598-5422.

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