The unauthorized biography of Canada's most famous artist couple and the rivalry that drove them.
She painted as if with pure light, radiant colours making quotidian kitchen scenes come alive with sublimated drama. He painted like clockwork, each stroke precise and measured with exquisite care, leaving no angle unchecked and no subtlety of tone unattended. Some would say Mary Pratt was fire and Christopher, ice. And yet Newfoundland's Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera (or Jackson Pollack and Lee Krasner...) presented their marriage as a portrait of harmony and balance. But balance off the canvas rarely makes great art, and the Pratts' art was spectacular.
As a youth at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Mary pursued her future husband, a prodigious art talent, and supported his determination to study painting instead of medicine. They married and removed themselves to a Newfoundland outport where his painting alone provided the means to raise a family. But as Mary's own talents became evident and she sought her own hours at the easel, when not raising their four children, and as rumours of Christopher's affair with a young model spread, the Pratts' harmonious exterior slowly cracked, to scandal in Newfoundland and fascination across the country. A marriage ended, and gave way to a furious competition for dominance in Canadian art.
CAROL BISHOP-GWYN is a former arts producer at CBC Radio and journalist, published in The Beaver, Toronto Life, Chatelaine, Maclean's and The Globe and Mail. She holds a Master of Fine Arts from York University and Master of Philosophy from the University of Surrey. Summering in Newfoundland for over a decade, she developed a deep knowledge of the province's visual arts scene, along with an excellent general knowledge of Canadian visual arts. She is a board member of the Winterset in the Summer Literary Festival, and as program chair has invited writers, musicians and visual artists to participate. Her first biography, The Pursuit of Perfection: A Life of Celia Franca, was a finalist for the 2012 Governor General's Literary Award for Non-Fiction and the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction and named a Globe 100 best book of the year.
PRAISE FOR ART AND RIVALRY:
“As profound a portrait as I have read about the complexity of marriage between artists and the compromises a great female artist is willing to make. But when Mary Pratt painted portraits of her husband’s mistress and did it more powerfully than he, you have to question who was the more willful. Bishop-Gwyn’s writing is intense and elegant and makes Art and Rivalry a page turner.” —Rosemary Sullivan, author of Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva
“Carol Bishop-Gwyn offers a remarkable double portrait of Canada’s first couple of painting. She explores the lives of Mary and Christopher Pratt with the insight and sympathy of a friend and insider, and the wide lens and forensic scrutiny of an historian. Along the way we learn of the passions, tragedies and rivalries behind two extraordinary bodies of work.” —Ross King, author of Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies
“Carol Bishop-Gwyn has written a book unlike any other on two of Canada’s most important painters, Mary Pratt and Christopher Pratt. An insightful biography of remarkable but rival artists, it explores the complicated and troubled marriage that fuelled the renowned careers that defined the country’s cultural landscape in distinct ways. Beautifully written and researched, Art and Rivalry takes readers into the Pratt’s volatile Newfoundland home and deftly examines what drove Mary’s domestic scenes of emotion and turmoil and Christopher’s depictions of control and order. Deeply compelling, provocative and enlightening, this is a must-read for anyone interested in Canadian art and the complicated underpinnings of creativity.” —Sara Angel, PhD, Founder and Executive Director, The Art Canada Institute
PRAISE FOR THE PURSUIT OF PERFECTION:
“With great art and skill, Carol Bishop-Gwyn does for Celia Franca what history requires and demands. She gives us the complex story of an artist both driven and tyrannical, both sensitive and unreasonable, but someone able, with little help and in what was little more than a cultural backwater, to found a ballet company which was to become one of the best in the world, the National Ballet of Canada. The company still bears her stamp. Bishop-Gwyn’s rich biography tells us exactly why.” —Charles Taylor Prize jury citation
“Brutally frank . . . A book worthy of its subject . . . You do not have to be a ballet fan to enjoy The Pursuit of Perfection, which overflows with triumphs and tragedies both onstage and off. Franca is such a unique and fascinating character it is difficult at times to remember the book is a thoroughly researched biography and not a work of fiction.” —Quill & Quire
“Wonderfully candid . . . [The] nuanced portrait . . . makes this ballet biography a must-read. . . . Both superbly insightful and judiciously written.” —The Globe and Mail