Artwork by Laura Adeline Lyall Muntz,  A Helping Hand

Laura M. Lyall
A Helping Hand

signed and dated 1905 lower right
19.75 x 13 ins ( 50.2 x 33 cms ) ( sight )

Auction Estimate: $3,000.00$2,000.00 - $3,000.00

Price Realized $2,400.00
Sale date: February 27th 2024

Collection of Maurice Cullen, R.C.A., Montreal
Masters Gallery, Vancouver
Private Collection, Vancouver
Consignor Canadian Fine Art, auction, 21 February 2018, lot 53
Private Collection, Toronto
In Laura Muntz Lyall`s charming painting “A Helping Hand” (1905), an older boy helps a little girl drink from a bowl. The boy`s face and the way he holds the bowl is solicitous. Muntz implied in the work that the scene takes place in the country through the bowl (perhaps of milk) the children hold, and the trees briefly indicated in the background.
Muntz painted the scene with dash and dexterity. She had learned the technique from an American artist, her teacher and friend Wilhelmina Hawley (1860-1958) who roomed and travelled with her in France and Holland. Hawley had taught her to apply watercolour boldly in a wet technique they called “splash and dash” and when the paint dried, to add details, as here, the boy`s face. Muntz recorded the complex mingling of hands, boots, clothes and faces with great rapidity, but she achieved in it a lively depiction, even in the part most difficult for her – the hands. She must have been pleased with it.

In 1906, Muntz moved to Montreal. One of the addresses given in the city directory for her studio that year was no. 3 Beaver Hall Square, the studio address for Maurice Cullen. He was an old acquaintance of Muntz and together, they helped found the New Watercolour Society in Toronto in 1900 and showed their work in the Royal Canadian Academy. In December 1905, he had shown with her in a Four Canadian Artists Exhibition at the Art Association of Montreal. He likely encouraged her to move to Montreal and helped her settle there, even letting her use his studio till space of her own was found. The watercolour would have been a gift from Muntz for his “helping hand.”

Muntz`s major oil painting “Forbidden Fruit”, shown in the Royal Canadian Exhibition of May 1905 and exhibited again at the Canadian National Exhibition that year, may be related to “A Helping Hand”.

“Forbidden Fruit” was in an auction at Hodgins Art Auctions in Calgary May 29, 2017, lot #121 titled “Portrait of a boy and girl with apples”. In depicting the children, Muntz may have used the same models. Now both children look at the viewer. Each holds fruit, the boy in his right hand and arm, the girl, in her raised left hand, and the older boy reaches to take it from her perhaps because it`s green and would hurt her stomach.
Muntz intended the surroundings to resemble a grassy orchard and for this reason, depicted apples on the ground. The implication is that the children have taken apples forbidden to them, or “forbidden fruit;” hence the original title. It was praised in the newspapers. The Globe said that the “urchin” looked after the “darling little tot with the most mature brotherly solicitude” and the News said the fruit had an appearance of wax and the children “as if in fairy land.”

Unfortunately, the painting sold at Hodgins is undated on the recto and the verso has been relined so that any verso inscriptions or labels have been lost.

We extend our gratitude to Canadian art historian, Joan Murray, for her assistance in researching and writing about this artwork.

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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