Artwork by Mary Pratt,  Rafted Ice-Sunrise

Mary Pratt
Rafted Ice-Sunrise

mixed media on paper
signed and dated 1992 lower right
40.5 x 60 ins ( 102.9 x 152.4 cms )

Auction Estimate: $18,000.00$14,000.00 - $18,000.00

Price Realized $14,400.00
Sale date: December 1st 2022

Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto
Private Collection, Ontario
Tom Smart, “The Art of Mary Pratt: The Substance of Light”, Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton, 1995, page 123
In the late 1980s, Mary Pratt embarked on a new and distinct body of work. Breaking with her previous easel paintings in oils, Pratt experimented with combinations of watercolour, pastel and chalk to create large-scale drawings. Scaling-up in format, but just as significantly in subject matter, these works explore the natural, elemental forces of fire and ice. Writer Tom Smart observed, “Fire and ice both become elements through which Pratt explores the refraction of light and the incarnation of her muse as a presence radiating from the centres of the phenomena.”

With consistent technical mastery, Pratt’s renderings of light take on a transcendent quality. “Rafted Ice‒Sunrise” depicts the sensual play of light and shadow on gently rippling water. The work features a stunning layering of pink, orange, blue and violet hues. The dramatic luminosity is enhanced with a foreboding barrier of dark pines in the distance. The rhythmic intervals of fenceposts are the sole indication of a human element. The sharp forms of broken ice at the centre evoke a visual reference to Caspar David Friedrich’s masterpiece, “The Sea of Ice”. Both works share a reverence for the destructive power and beauty of nature.

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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.