Artwork by Laura Adeline Lyall Muntz,  The Little Red Head (1903)

Laura Muntz Lyall
The Little Red Head (1903)

signed and dated 1903 upper right
12.25 x 8.75 ins ( 31.1 x 22.2 cms ) ( sight )

Auction Estimate: $10,000.00$8,000.00 - $10,000.00

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

Hon. A.G. Blair, 1903
Hundred Antiques, Toronto
Acquired by the present Private Collection, circa 1964
“Twenty-Fourth Annual Exhibition of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts”, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, April 1903, no. 173
“Collector’s Canada: Selections from a Toronto Private Collection”, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; travelling to Musée du Québec, Quebec City; Vancouver Art Gallery; Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, 14 May 1988‒7 May 1989, no. 45
Dennis Reid, “Collector’s Canada: Selections from a Toronto Private Collection”, Toronto, 1988, no. 45, reproduced page 52
Joan Murray, “Laura Muntz Lyall: Impressions of Women and Childhood”, Montreal/Kingston, 2012, page 31, reproduced page 28
“The Little Red Head” is a dazzling portrayal of a young red-headed girl, lost in thought. She is depicted close-up and from an unusual angle that suggests individuality and even intimacy, with her hair hanging loose, creating a soft frame for her face. Absorbed, she seems lost in thought.

In the first decade of the twentieth century, Laura Muntz Lyall, who had been painting since the 1890s, was recognized by a sizable audience among collectors and the public as the premier Canadian portraitist of childhood. From the first, her portraits of children were equalled by few other painters among the Canadians for their sympathy and warmth. But this young girl is shown by the artist with what seems to be unusual feeling. The image certainly preoccupied Muntz. She used a three-quarter length pose of the girl with her head looking directly at the viewer in a portrait of a young musician titled “Inspiration” (1902), a half-length pose from the opposite direction in “Portrait of a Red-Headed Girl” (1902) and she repeated the composition of The Little Red Head, though with dark hair, in “Study of a Head” (1904). There are echoes of the subject and sketch even in later years in such works as the head of the spell-binding girl in her tour-de-force “Oriental Poppies” (c. 1915, Art Gallery of Ontario).

We know from the subject herself who it was that posed for the girl “with the Titian-colored hair”: it was Lyall`s niece Elizabeth Muntz (1894-1977). Elizabeth became an artist herself, a distinguished painter and sculptor, and later wrote about her aunt from her home, Apple Tree Cottage, near Dorchester, Dorset, England, saying: “…Yes I posed (after a fashion) …. I say “after a fashion” because so often she would show me a picture & say “you didn`t know I was painting you that day? I painted you in my head & put it out of my head onto the canvas after you had gone.”

Elizabeth recalled posing for her aunt from the time she was eight years old. Yet even the most adoring of relations does not get the kind of loving treatment Lyall gave Elizabeth. If we compare the sketch from life of Elizabeth with “The Little Red Head”, we can see that Lyall made a gawky school girl into a dreamy princess. She must have seen in the child the future person, the artist, perhaps idealized but nonetheless beautiful.

Lyall found in her niece, even at a young age, a soul-mate. She was a very lonely person, as her niece knew. Lyall only married late in life in 1915 and she married a man her niece felt was unsuitable and the marriage “disastrous.”

But all of this was way ahead of 1902 when she painted her favorite niece in her painting Inspiration, looking truly inspired as Lyall was herself – and Lyall was happy. She was working in the same building as her friends and former teachers G. A. Reid and his wife, Mary Hiester Reid, the Yonge St. Arcade. She was praised by critics for the works she showed in the exhibitions of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, the Ontario Society of Artists and the Art Association of Montreal. It was said of the musician in “Inspiration” (critics thought it was a young man), “love speaks in his eyes”.

In a sure signal of her success, the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts exhibition of 1903 sold “The Little Red Head” to the Hon. A. G. Blair from, as reported the Ottawa Citizen on April 25 of that year. Andrew George Blair PC KC (1844 –1907) was a Canadian politician in New Brunswick, Canada and served as the seventh premier of New Brunswick for 13 years and 136 days, the second-longest tenure in the province's history.

Lyall must have been pleased. The sale to such a famous man must have made her feel as though her life was all coming together, as people say now when they feel confident of success. The use of her young niece as a model in her many poses was Lyall`s good luck charm. Re-using the image affected her attitude and made her do better, more imaginative work as we can see from “The Little Red Head”. Lyall`s brush reveals her subject`s beauty and gives her dignity in the often-overlooked story of women`s lives of the early twentieth century.

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