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 Mary Frances West Pratt  (1935 - )

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Lived/Active: Newfoundland and Labrador/New Brunswick / Canada      Known for: still life painting, printmaking, illustration and teaching

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Yellow Pear on a Yellow Plate
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Mary Frances Pratt (AKA: Mary Frances West Pratt, AKA: Mary Pratt) is a painter, printmaker, illustrator and educator.  She was born in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.  Since graduation from university in 1961 she has primarily lived in or near St. John’s Newfoundland. (1)

Her mediums are oil, pastel, watercolor, charcoal, mixed mediums, silkscreen*, lithograph* and wood block print* (2).  Her subjects are still life, domestic objects, figures, nudes, allegory*, symbolism*, color, shape and texture.  Her styles are Photo Realism* and Pop Art*.

Quote: "My role seems to have been to make people see things that are around them all the time that they never noticed before... to help them find the beauty of the simple things." Mary Pratt (2007)

She works from color slides. They are used to freeze a moment in time and to preserve objectivity (3).  According to the artist, her technique achieves the "styleless" look of a page from a magazine or a poster.  The result is a super real image saturated with color.  AskART Images has some very good examples of her work.

Quote: "The reality comes first, and the symbol comes after. I see these things, and suddenly they become symbolic of life." - Mary Pratt (1985)

Quote: "When one has four small children to look after, it is not easy to paint.  This is not an excuse - it is a simple statement of fact.  If one allows one's ambitions as a painter to soar beyond the reality of one's responsibilities as a mother, one must be frustrated with the resulting work. If, on the other hand, one surrenders to the housework and the household, there is an emptiness, a frustration which is no less real.  As in all things - what is needed is a balance - an equilibrium.  For me, this consists of accepting the fact that the time I have for painting is limited, and allowing the size and scope of my work to reflect the small packages of time into which it must fit.  It means accepting the simple things around me as they are and taking from them the maximum pleasure they will provide.  That is what I have tried to do in these paintings." Mary Pratt (1967)

Her formal art education consists of two periods (4) at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick - 1953 to 1956 and 1959 to 1961 - resulting in a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. While there she studied under Edward Pulford, Alex Colville and Lawren P. Harris (see all in AskART) (5).  After graduation she taught painting in the Extension Department at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John’s.

Her first solo exhibition was at the Memorial University Art Gallery in 1967, she subsequently has had two more there, in 1973 and 1975.  She has also had solo and retrospective exhibitions at Museum London, Ontario (1981), the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton, N.B.(1995), the Vancouver Art Gallery, B.C. (1996), the Mackenzie Art Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan ( 2004), the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax (2005) and at the McMichael Canadian Collection, Kleinberg, Ontario (2007).

Her works have been included in numerous group exhibitions including: "The Acute Image in Canadian Art" at the Owens Art Gallery, Sackville, N.B. (1974); "Survey of Canadian Art Now" at the Vancouver Art Gallery, B.C. (1974); "9 out of 10: Survey of Contemporary Canadian Art" at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Ontario (1974); "Some Canadian Women Artists" (6) at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario (1975); "Aspects of Realism", a national touring exhibition organized by  Gallery Stratford, Ontario (1976); "Realism in Canada: Traditional and New" at the Mackenzie Art Gallery, Regina (1978); "12 Canadian Artists" (7) at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, Ontario (1980); "Mary Pratt and John Reeves: the Johnny Wayne Portrait" at Memorial University Art Gallery, St. John’s ( 1990); "Survivors in Search of a Voice: The Art of Courage" at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto (1995); "Rethinking the Rural in Contemporary Newfoundland Art" at the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador, St.John’s (1997); "Egos and Icons" at the University of Toronto Art Centre (2004); and "A Personal Choice" at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton, N.B. (2007).

Currently (2010), her works are included in "Learning from Leonardo: the High Realist Legacy in Canadian Art" a touring exhibition organized by the Mackenzie Art Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan. (8)

Her works are avidly collected. They are also in numerous public collections including the Agnes Etherington Art Centre (Kingston, Ontario), the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (B.C.), the Art Gallery of Hamilton (Ontario), the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), the  Confederation Centre Art Gallery & Museum (Charlottetown, P.E.I.), the Robert McLaughlin Gallery (Oshawa, Ontario), the Owens Art Gallery (Sackville, N.B.), the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery (Concordia University, Montreal), the Mackenzie Art Gallery (Regina, Saskatchewan), the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (Halifax), the Winnipeg Art Gallery (Manitoba), the Vancouver Art Gallery (B.C.), the McMichael Canadian Art Collection (Kleinburg, Ontario), the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery (Fredericton, N.B.) and the National Gallery of Canada.

Her numerous honors and awards include, the very highest Canadian honor, the Order of Canada (CC) in 1997, which recognizes, "a lifetime of outstanding achievement and merit of the highest degree, especially in service to Canada or to humanity at large".  She also has eight honorary doctorates; she won the Ontario College of Art Fellowship Award in 1990 and the Molson Prize in the Arts in 1997; and in 2007 Canada Post reproduced the images of two Pratt paintings on postage stamps to honor her as "one of Canada's most respected realist painters."

She has served on many prestigious committees and councils including the  Newfoundland Government Task Force on Education (1973); the Federal Cultural Review Committee (1981); and in 1985, she chaired a committee to advise on the creation of the School of Fine Arts at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in Corner Brook, Newfoundland.  She is a member of the Canada Council, the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts*, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Board of Directors, and the Board of Directors of the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador.

As an important Canadian artist her work is illustrated and discussed in most recent books about Canadian art history and Canadian modern art.  There are also the monographs Mary Pratt (1989) by Gerta Moray and Sandra Gwyn; Mary and Christopher Pratt (1989), by Jane Lind; The Art of Mary Pratt: the Substance of Light (1995) by Tom Smart; and Simple Bliss: The Paintings and Prints of Mary Pratt (2004), by Patricia Deadman and Robin Laurence. (See AskArt book references)

She is also the author of A Personal Calligraphy (2000), and she illustrated the books, Across the Table: An Indulgent Look at Food in Canada (1985), by Cynthia Wine and The Golden Lotus (1993) by Diana Brebner. (See AskArt book references)


(1) St. John’s is the hometown of her first husband artist Christopher Pratt (see AskART) whom she divorced in 2003.  She married Jim Rosen in 2006.

(2) Over an eight-year period, from 1994 to 2002, Pratt worked on a series of ten woodcut prints with master printer, Masato Arikushi, of Vancouver.  Source: Reference and Information Services Division, Library and Archives Canada.

(3) A combination of events led to a radical shift in Pratt's artistic style.  Frustrated by the lack of time she had to devote to art, Pratt began searching for a new working method to describe the heightened modes of perception that were central to her experience.  She began to experiment with the use of light to transform an ordinary moment into a charged theatrical scene.  What she found, however, was that light changed faster than she could sketch or paint. She responded to the dilemma by using a camera to "still" the light and the moment.  The image became a record of a potent visual experience that she could later interpret in her paintings.  Source: Artist statement - National Gallery of Canada.

(4) In 1957 Pratt married fellow art student Christopher Pratt, whom she had met at Mount Allison University.  They left Mount Allison, for two years, so he could study drawing under Jessie Alexandra Dick (see AskART), at the Glasgow School of Art, Scotland (1957-1959). From the time her first child was born (1958), Mary did not paint a thing for nearly five years. Their fourth child, Edwin was born in 1964.

(5) During her high school years she studied art with Lucy Jarvis, John Todd, Fritz Brandtner (see AskART) and Alfred Pinsky (see AskART). Source: A Dictionary of Canadian Artists (1974), by Colin S. MacDonald (See AskArt book references).

(6) The other artists are Gathie Falk (see AskART), Sherry Grauer, Leslie Reid, Colette Whiten, An Whitlock and Shirley Wiitasalo (see AskART).

(7) All twelve were women, they are: Joy Walker, Sydney Drum (see AskART), Louise Robert, Evelyn Roth, Ann Clarke, Wanda Condon, Janet Hendershot, Ann Kipling, Annemarie Schmid-Esler, Bobby Oliver and Alexandra Haeseker.

(8) Other artists included in the exhibition are Robert Bateman, Alex Colville, Ken Danby, Christopher Pratt, and Jeremy Smith (see all in AskART).

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Prepared and contributed by M.D. Silverbrooke




** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at
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