Listening to Art

11.06: Helen McNicoll, The Chintz Sofa

Download (MP3).

Listening to Art, by William Denton.

Volume eleven, number six: The Chintz Sofa by Helen McNicoll.

Hello, and welcome to Listening to Art. I’m William Denton.

Helen McNicoll was a Canadian artist; she was born in Toronto in 1879 and died, aged only thirty-five, due to complications from diabetes, in England in 1915. She soon faded from memory: her work was shown in Toronto and Montreal in 1925 and 1926, but then for decades she was ignored. In an exhibition review in the Toronto Globe and Mail in 1974, critic Kay Kritzwiser wrote:

It’s like a game of guess who at the Morris Gallery, 15 Prince Arthur Ave. Is it J.W. Morrice in these little vignettes of a French way of life? No, but it could have been. Is it Manet in the sunlit colors falling on gentle women? No, it’s Helen McNicoll, whose light-drenched oil paintings—22 of them—make up marvelously for these lacklustre November days.

And who is Helen McNicoll? We may well ask. With the exception of her name, included in a list of Art Association of Montreal members in early 1900 in Paul Duval’s book, Four Decades, I could find no reference to her. She belongs in that category of women painters who were elbowed out of the ranks by the passage of the years, by a lack of gallery recognition, or by her male contemporaries, and, sometimes, by all three.

Now, over a century after her death, McNicoll has some of the recognition she deserves. In her 2017 book Helen McNicoll: Life & Work, Samantha Burton wrote:

One of the most notable female artists in Canada, [McNicoll] achieved considerable international success during her decade-long career. Deaf from the age of two, McNicoll was esteemed for her sunny Impressionist representations of rural landscapes, intimate child subjects, and modern female figures. She played an important role in popularizing Impressionism in Canada at a time when it was still relatively unknown. Before her early death, she was elected to the Royal Society of British Artists in 1913 and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1914.

This is a painting, oil on canvas, 99.1 cm wide by 81.3 cm high.

Now let’s listen to The Chintz Sofa by Helen McNicoll, recorded at the National Gallery of Canada, in Ottawa, on 29 June 2022.

Waveform of the field recording.

That was The Chintz Sofa by Helen McNicoll. I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as I did.

For more information and links to things I’ve mentioned, please visit

Listening to Art is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


All web sites accessed as of date of publication.

Burton, Samantha. Helen McNicoll: Life & Work. Toronto: Art Canada Institute, 2017.

Kritzwiser, Kay. “At the Galleries: McNicoll Exhibit Ends Years of Neglect.” Globe and Mail, 16 November 1974.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Helen McNicoll,”