Artwork by Laura Adeline Lyall Muntz,  Girl in a Dutch Bonnet

Laura A.L. Muntz
Girl in a Dutch Bonnet

oil on canvas
signed and inscribed indistinctly “Paris (?)” and dated 1899 lower right; signed upper left
17 x 14 ins ( 43.2 x 35.6 cms )

Auction Estimate: $15,000.00$10,000.00 - $15,000.00

Price Realized $13,200.00
Sale date: November 22nd 2021

By descent to the present Private Collection, Ontario
In her painting “Girl in a Dutch Bonnet”, Laura Muntz Lyall celebrated a charming young subject, absorbed in thought, who wears traditional Dutch headgear from the picturesque village of Rijsoord in the southern Netherlands. Here, during the summers of 1894 to 1899, Laura Muntz Lyall (then Laura Muntz) and her fellow painter, the American Wilhelmina Hawley (1860-1958), enjoyed painting. Rijsoord was, to their eyes, almost unbelievably, a centre with a “living past”, visible in the distinctive costume of the inhabitants.

Muntz and Hawley had met at the Académie Colarossi in Paris which both attended, Muntz as a student, Hawley as a teacher. They had become fast friends and in the summer of 1893, they travelled to Moret-sur-Loing, the popular artists’ colony near Barbizon, to paint. There, at their garden studio, a nearby neighbor, the famous artist James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), frequently visited them. Muntz and Hawley would have soaked up what he told them about colour and light and the importance of painting detail in costume – so different from the teaching at their school. Likely due to his influence, Muntz began to pay more attention to items of apparel in her work, especially bonnets, hats or caps as in “Child with Green Bowl” (Art Gallery of Ontario, 1893). They discovered Rijsoord later that year.

In “Girl in a Dutch Bonnet” of 1899, Muntz painted headgear she had used before both in a drawing and her important canvas “Dis-moi? (The Lesson)” (1895), shown at the Société des Artistes Français in Paris and reproduced in the French periodical “L`Illustration”. But the difference between “Dis-moi?” and this work is instructive. Now, her confident handling of paint and the effect of light on both head covering and face, gives her creation a sense of freshness and immediacy. It comes as no surprise that “Girl in a Dutch Bonnet” was done two years after what is arguably the best work in her oeuvre, the highly praised “The Pink Dress”.

By 1899, Muntz was a professional artist, painting and giving classes on art in Toronto. She had returned to Canada in 1898, accompanied by her friend Hawley, because of a disappointment in love. Instead of dwelling on her unhappiness, she sublimated her feelings in theme - childhood. It inspired her, as it had other artists in Canada such as Paul Peel and William Brymner. But in her special interpretation of the subject, she fused the handling of light and broken tone characteristic of Impressionism with a delighted response to the children themselves.

In the summer of 1899, the pair went back to Rijsoord, the scene of some of their happiest memories, to paint. They would have stopped off in Paris and painted afterwards. Perhaps Muntz took leave of Hawley there because she came back to Canada alone. Her return was reported in “Saturday Night” magazine at the end of September. In December, she exhibited works titled “Dutch Studies” in the Women`s Art Exhibition in Saint John, New Brunswick. Muntz does not seem to have exhibited “Girl in a Dutch Bonnet”. Her Dutch subjects of children of that date were described by a reviewer in “Saturday Night” as “vivid, pronounced, and living”, words which seem to describe the painting although it was not among the paintings the reviewer saw in the exhibition she reviewed. Perhaps Muntz already had sold it or she kept it for herself. Sometime later, she signed it a second time at upper left, but she remembered that she painted it when she was unmarried (she married in 1915), and signed it not “Lyall” but “Muntz”.

Laura Muntz Lyall was an artist who looked to the past and reframed it to fit the present. Rijsoord in the Netherlands was a village that seemed - in costume and customs - to live in the past but lived a vibrant life in the present. Muntz gloried in children everywhere and their half-dreaming adventures, translating their moods with a reverence for craftsmanship. She combined the two in this striking portrait. Ultimately, with her unique ability, she became the foremost among painters of childhood of her day in Canada.

We extend our thanks to Joan Murray, Canadian art historian, for contributing the preceding essay.

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Laura Adeline Lyall Muntz
(1860 - 1930) OSA, ARCA

Born at Radford, Warwickshire, England, the daughter of Eugene Gustavus Muntz, she came to Canada as a child with her family and they settled on a farm in the backwoods of the Muskoka District. She didn't begin formal art training until the age of twenty-three. She became a school teacher in Hamilton, Ontario, and in her spare hours took art classes.

With money saved from her teaching job she studies for a short time at the South Kensington School of Art, England about 1887. She returned to Canada and spent the next seven years earning money for study in Paris. In Paris, she studied at the Academie Colorossi under Joseph Le Blanc and others and she received Honourable Mention at the Paris Salon in 1895. She also travelled in Holland and Italy and at the end of seven years returned to Toronto and opened a studio. She was elected an Associate of the Royal Canadian Academy in 1895. She left Toronto and resided in Montreal where she continued to paint. Her canvas “A Daffodil” (a portrait of a girl holding a daffodil) was purchased by the National Gallery of Canada in 1910.

In 1915 she married Charles WB Lyall and returned to Toronto. She began signing her canvases Laura Muntz Lyall and even applied her signature to works she had done earlier so that each signature appeared on the canvas in opposite corners. For a period, her married life occupied most of her time and her painting activities almost ceased. Mention of her return to painting was recorded in the Toronto “Sunday World” by Irene Hare as follows, “Miss Lyall was one of our most indefatigable painters before the urge of other domestic duties took so much of her time that her painting was, to a certain extent, neglected. But her great number of admirers are delighted that she has again taken up her brush in earnest, and is very busy indeed at her 'attic' studio at her home. She has three large and very lovely pictures in process. All have little ones for their subject. One is s two beautiful children gambolling in a wood. The figures seem to melt in a hazy atmosphere of bronze and green at the same time imaginative and compelling. Two other small nude figures are disporting themselves along the sea-shore, in a glow of light and colour, the soft blues of the back-ground being particularly suitable for the fairy-like forms. In another still, the mother forms the keynote of the picture, with three beautiful child figures grouped about her....She is an enthusiastic painter. 'My hobbies' she will laughingly say, 'are only two-- painting and children. I don't know which I am fondest of.'”

She passed away in Toronto at the age of 70 and was survived by her husband, and a brother GH Muntz. It is not certain is there were other relatives. She is represented in the following collections: Art Gallery of Ontario; Parliament Buildings, Victoria, BC; Vancouver Art Gallery; National Gallery of Canada, and elsewhere including many private collections.

Source: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume I: A-F", compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1977