Mary Pratt, born Mary Frances West in 1935 in Fredericton, was a Canadian painter renowned for her still life realist paintings. While her early works centered on domestic scenes, her later pieces adopted a darker, more unsettling tone, often featuring people as the subject matter.
Pratt drew inspiration for her paintings from items found in her home’s kitchen, such as baked apples, cod fillets on tin foil, eviscerated chickens on a Coca-Cola box, and lunch pails. Her earlier works possessed a whimsical mood, while her later, large-format paintings, like a moose carcass hanging in a service station, were more somber. However, it was her kitchen imagery that solidified her reputation.
Pratt approached painting with meticulous care, honing her skills over a long period. She received her first color lessons from her mother, Katherine E. MacMurray, and later studied at Mount Allison (1953-56) under Alex Colville, Lawren Phillips Harris, and drawing master Ted Pulford, graduating in 1961. Often working from slides, Pratt’s style connected her to American photo-realists such as Richard Estes, Chuck Close, and Ben Schonzeit. However, her domestic images were reminiscent of old masters like Chardin. She illustrated the book Across the Table: An Indulgent Look at Food in Canada (1985) by Cynthia Wine.
In 1995, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery organized a touring exhibition titled “The Art of Mary Pratt: The Substance of Light.” Pratt was named a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1996 and received the Canadian Molson Prize from the Canada Council for the Arts in 1997.
Mary Pratt grew up in a house on Waterloo Row with her sister Barbara, a home that featured prominently in her work. Remaining in the family, the house is currently inhabited by Barbara and her husband George Cross. Mary Pratt passed away in St. John’s, Newfoundland, in 2018.
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