“A Sea Anemone” and “May” by Laura Muntz Lyall

By: Greg Humeniuk

Lot 11 – Laura Adeline Muntz Lyall, OSA, RCA (1860-1930), Canadian. A SEA ANEMONE, 1921. Oil on canvas signed 20 x 17.5 in — 50.8 x 44.5 cm. Estimate $8,000-$12,000

In his definitive Impressionism in Canada: A Journey of Rediscovery, A. K. Prakash begins his chapter on Laura Muntz Lyall clearly: “Laura Muntz was the first woman to carry the name of Canada into the world of Impressionism.”[1]

Lyall’s painterly manner combined with her unique, psychologically-intimate portrayals of girls and women characterise lot 11, A Sea Anemone (1921) and lot 62, May (1903) on offer here. Notably, these works were last recorded in exhibitions more than a century ago and, in one case, likely returned to Canada for the first time in 120 years.

Being nearly a full generation older than most of the Group of Seven’s members, Lyall could neither be a peer nor follow in their footsteps. Instead, her timing meant she had to rely on her ambition and skill in her own modern moment. She studied in Toronto, London, and Paris, and employed these experiences when she sent May to the New York Water Color Club’s fourteenth annual exhibition in 1903. The New York Times’ reviewer called it and Lyall’s other submission out by title among the exhibition’s idealised works.[2] She came into her own in the first decade of the twentieth century, and May shows an artist in control of her medium and subject.

Through art historian Joan Murray’s deep research and consideration of Lyall, we know lot 11’s enchanting image of a waif-like girl is the painting A Sea Anemone that was exhibited at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now, Art Gallery of Ontario) in the Royal Canadian Academy of Art’s forty-third annual exhibition in 1921. At 61 years of age, Lyall painted the girl with a dreamy intensity at odds with the tasteful local iterations of English painting often seen in Toronto at the time or the different, robust expression of the early Group of Seven. Of an older generation, and showing her European training and experience, A Sea Anemone shares the bravura of British Symbolist George F. Watts’ expressivity and subjectivity, and channels the rich painterly legacy of Titian that Watts also revered. In his review of the RCAA exhibition, the Toronto Daily Star’s reviewer called it a “purely creative invention […] of a girl on a rock, with green vesture, deliciously tousled golden hair and a fine luminosity of water in the background.”[3] These adjectives – creative, delicious, and luminous – all remind us of Lyall’s distinction and the space she made for herself in the Canadian art world in the early twentieth century. She invites us to behold her subject’s contemplation or introspection without violating their privacy. The best of Lyall’s work is empathetic and May and A Sea Anemone show this.

Lot 62 – Laura Adeline Muntz Lyall, OSA, RCA (1860-1930), Canadian. MAY, 1903. Watercolour on card, signed and dated “1903”; exhibition and framer’s labels,
sight 14.5 x 12.875 in — 36.8 x 32.7 cm; sheet 15 x 13.25 in — 38.1 x 33.7 cm. Estimate $3,000-$5,000

Waddington’s thanks Joan Murray, author of “Laura Muntz Lyall: Impressions of Women and Childhood”, for her notes and observations about the work.

About the auction:

Online from May 27-June 1, 2023, The Canadian Fine Art session of The Canada Auction series includes works by Group of Seven members Lawren Harris, A.J. Casson, Frank Hans Johnston, A.Y. Jackson, and J.E.H. MacDonald, which are complemented by work by artists including Charles Pachter, Kazuo Nakamura, Frederick A. Verner, Maud Lewis, René Marcil, Gordon Appelbe Smith, and Pegi Nicol MacLeod, as well as two rare to market paintings by Frederick Loveroff.

We invite you to preview these works in person at our Toronto location, 275 King Street East, 2nd Floor.

On View:
 Wednesday, May 24 from 1:00 pm to 7:00 pm
 Thursday, May 25 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
 Friday, May 26 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
 Saturday, May 27 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
 Sunday, May 28 from 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm
 Monday, May 29 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
 Tuesday, May 30 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
 Wednesday, May 31 from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm

Otherwise by appointment.

Please contact us for more information.


[1] A.K. Prakash, Impressionism in Canada: A Journey of Rediscovery (Stuttgart: Arnoldsche Verlagsanstalt, 2015), p. 419.
[2] “Harmonies in Pictures” The New York Times (22 Nov 1903), 7
[3] Augustus Bridle, “Pictures! Pictures! Who’ll Come an’ Buy?” The Toronto Daily Star (16 Nov 1921), 4.


Catalogue of the Forty-Third Exhibition of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. Exh. cat. (Toronto: Art Gallery of Toronto, 1921), no. 98.
Augustus Bridle, “Pictures! Pictures! Who’ll Come an’ Buy?” Toronto Star, 16 Nov 1921, 4.
Joan Murray, Laura Muntz Lyall: Impressions of Women and Childhood, (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2012), 162.

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