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Self-Portrait, by Lilias Torrance Newton, 1929
The Little Sisters
The Little Sisters, by Lilias Torrance Newton, 1920
Lilias Torrance Newton has left a legacy as one of Canada's most prolific portrait artists, with a painting career spanning over 50 years. She was the youngest child and only daughter of Mary Alice Stewart and Forbes Torrance. Her father, an amateur artist and original member of the Pen and Pencil Club of Montréal, died while Lilias was still an infant. It was during convalescence, in 1906, that Lilias began to develop an interest in art, having spent much of her time studying her father's sketchbooks. She began formal art instruction at the Montréal Art Association and while a student at Miss Edgar's and Miss Cramp's School in Montréal.
At the age of sixteen, Lilias began more formal studies with the Art Association of Montréal, under renowned instructor William Brymner. She was highly accomplished, having been awarded two scholarships in her first year. She travelled to England during the First World War and served with the Red Cross, in addition to expanding her studies, before returning to Montréal in 1919.
In 1920, Newton along with other alumnae of the Art Association of Montréal, rented studio space on Beaver Hall Hill. Among her peers were Prudence Heward, A.Y. Jackson and Sarah Robertson. Though only together for a year and a half, this community of artists made their mark on Canadian art history and became known as the Beaver Hall Group. While lesser known than the Group of Seven, the Beaver Hall Group was more diverse in terms of both its membership and its work. The group was made up of both women and men, and their work included figurative painting and still-life, in addition to landscape.
Lilias married Frederick G. Newton in 1921. She continued to paint and exhibited her work at the Art Association of Montréal and the Royal Canadian Academy [of Art]. The National Gallery of Canada acquired several of her works. In 1923, she returned to Europe in order to pursue her studies. She studied in Paris under painter Alexandre Jacovleff, who persuaded Newton to submit her work to the Paris Salon; she won a Premier Mention d'Honneur for a portrait entitled Denise. The international cachet helped Newton make a name for herself upon her return to Canada, and her works were showcased at several national and international exhibits.
Newton's only child, a son, Francis Forbes, was born in 1926. Her husband, a stockbroker, suffered under the crash of 1929. The couple separated and subsequently divorced in 1933, leaving Lilias alone to support herself and her son. In spite of the Great Depression, there was still a significant demand for portrait painting among Canada's elite, so Newton turned to professional portraiture as a means of support.
The years that followed were prosperous for Newton. She quickly built a reputation as one of Canada's finest portrait artists, and travelled to various points across Canada to fulfill numerous commissions. Some of her subjects included A.Y. Jackson and Lawren Harris of the Group of Seven, Vincent and Alice Massey and members of the Southam family. In addition, she was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy [of Art] in 1937, and went on to teach painting at the Art Association of Montréal alongside Edwin Holgate. In 1957, Newton was commissioned to paint an official portrait of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, the first Canadian designated to produce a portrait of a reigning monarch.
Lilias Torrance Newton continued to paint through the mid-1970s, in spite of her declining health. She died in Cowansville, Quebec in 1980.
Farr, Dorothy. — Lilias Torrance Newton 1896-1980. — Kingston : Agnes Etherington Art Centre, c1981. — 31 p.
"Lilias Torrance Newton : painter". — Contemporary Canadian artists [online]. — (September 1998). — In CPI.Q. Toronto : Gale Canada, c1998
Meadowcroft, Barbara. — Painting friends : the Beaver Hall women painters. — Montreal : Véhicule Press, c1999. — 240 p., 24 p. of plates