Artwork by Mary Pratt,  Baking Bread

Mary Pratt
Baking Bread

oil on board
signed and dated 1974 lower right
16 x 24 ins ( 40.6 x 61 cms )

Auction Estimate: $40,000.00$30,000.00 - $40,000.00

Price Realized $29,700.00
Sale date: November 23rd 2017

Private Collection, New Brunswick
Sandra Gwyn and Gerta Moray, introduction to Mary Pratt, Toronto, 1989, pages 1 and 23
While her husband painted full-time, Mary Pratt did so only when she had a spare moment in her homemaking duties. She found her subjects in her daily routine, and she elevated these images of everyday household objects from the banal to something beautiful and significant. With regards to her choice of subject matter, the artist declared: “The things that turn me on to painting are the things I really like... I’m getting supper and suddenly I look at the roast in the oven or the cod fillet spread out on the foil, and I get this gut reaction. I think, ‘that’s gorgeous, that’s absolutely wonderful, and I must save it.’” Pratt undoubtedly had this sentiment in her conception of “Baking Bread”, as one is easily drawn to the delectable aroma of bread baking in an oven and peeking at its rising golden crust. “Baking Bread” exemplifies Pratt’s celebration of the ordinary, a pervading theme in her work throughout the 1970s.

Pratt was particularly interested in capturing effects of light to add a dramatic or theatrical aspect to her artwork, as evidenced in the warm glow of this composition. She painted from photographic slides projected onto a canvas, so as to capture and accurately depict the light of one particular moment. Sandra Gwyn states that “the strength of Mary Pratt’s paintings lies in the fact that they...openly acknowledge the photograph, which is inseparable from the process of their making.” Interestingly, the artist had no idea that her choice of style was consistent with those of the New Realist movement, a contemporaneous group of Canadian and international artists who also adopted the practice of painting from photographs. Rather, Pratt arrived at this approach on her own as a result of convenience and her immediate surroundings, in addition to her formal training from Alex Colville and Mount Allison University.
This artwork was secured from a New Brunswick collection during Consignor’s 2017 national appraisal tour.

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Mary Pratt
(1935 - 2018) RCA

Mary Pratt was born in Fredericton, New Brunswick, in 1935. Both of Pratt’s parents valued creativity and participated in artistic endeavors themselves –– Pratt’s mother, Katherine, hand painted photographs. Pratt started painting due to this influence and was seen as an appropriate hobby for a young woman of her social status. Continually encouraged by her parents, Pratt began attending art classes at the University of New Brunswick Art Center. For two years she took weekly private lessons from John Todd, a graphic artist who trained at the Pratt Institute in New York City.

In 1953, Pratt began studying at Mount Allison University at the School of Fine and Applied Arts. Studying under Alex Colville, Pratt spent three years learning the basics of art, including art history, design, drawing, and sculpture. Pratt focused on still lifes in her final year at Mount Allison. She graduated with a fine-arts certificate in 1956 and was qualified to teach or practice as an art therapist. One year later, in 1957, she married Christopher Pratt, who was a fellow art student at Mount Allison. Pratt wished to continue her education, so in 1959 she began the required coursework for a Bachelor of Fine Arts. While attending this program, Lawren P. Harris, son of Group of Seven painter Lawren Harris, told Pratt that she must not outshine her husband’s creative projects as there could be only one great painter in a family. Harris’ misogynistic words challenged Pratt to continue to paint.

After graduation in 1961, Pratt and her husband moved to St. John’s where she worked as an artist and taught two art courses at Memorial University. In 1963, her husband decided to take up painting full time, quitting his job at Memorial University’s Art Gallery, and moved the family to a cottage near St. Mary’s. While Christopher painted full-time, Pratt was expected to tend to the children, the house, and the needs of her husband. Still, she continued to paint in her down time, although not receiving acclaim from visiting gallerists who were only interested in her husband’s work.

In 1967, Peter Bell, Christopher’s colleague from Mount Allison and one of the few individuals who knew of Pratt’s art, exhibited forty-four of her drawings and paintings. Throughout the next few years, Pratt was inspired by the idea of viewing her subjects as light and began painting from photographs. Pratt struggled with this as she had been taught to paint from life at Mount Allison. In 1970, Pratt completely stopped painting until her friends, husband, and children encouraged her to start again a year later. After resuming painting, visitors became interested in her work as well as her husband’s. Mayo Graham of the National Gallery of Canada was interested in “Cod Filets” (1974) during a visit and included Pratt in “Some Canadian Women Artists” exhibition in 1975. One of her works included in the exhibition, “Red Currant Jelly” (1972) was purchased by the National Gallery.

In 1980, Pratt was appointed to be a member of the governance board for the Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador. She also served on Canada’s Federal Culture Policy Review Committee. Until her health made her unable to serve, Pratt participated in many community service projects, including the creation of Newfoundland and Labrador’s art gallery and culture center in St. John’s called The Rooms.

Throughout the 1980s, the Pratt children grew up, moved out, and got married, which inspired Pratt’s creativity. For example, she painted her daughter, Barbara, in “Barby in the Dress She Made Herself” (1986). With the onset of arthritis and vision problems, Pratt began drawing at a larger scale with pastels as it was easier on her body. “Bonfire with Beggar Bush” (1990) and “Bonfire by the River” (1998) are examples of these large-scale drawings. Pratt and Christopher separated in the 1990s, officially divorcing in 2004. During this time Mary Pratt’s career flourished. She was included in exhibitions in Toronto, Edmonton, and Fredericton, and was featured in her first retrospective exhibition in 1995 at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. In 2013, The Rooms and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia organized a retrospective of her work that toured Canada.

Literature Sources:
Ray Cronin, “Mary Pratt: Life and Work,” Toronto: Art Institute Canada, 2020 (
Tom Smart, “The Art of Mary Pratt: The Substance of Light,” Fredericton, Goose Lane Editions, 1996

We extend our thanks to Danie Klein, York University graduate student in art history, for writing and contributing this artist biography.