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Ottawa, Canada — Starting Friday, October 5, the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) will unveil the first retrospective exhibition of the work of Canadian photographer, Margaret Watkins. Watkins gained a reputation in the world of art and advertising during the 1920s, with her images of everyday objects such as a sink filled with unwashed dishes, eggs on the edge of a draining board, a shower hose and a bar of soap. The exhibition, titled Margaret Watkins: Domestic Symphonies , will run until January 6, 2013, and is comprised of 108 works created between 1914 and 1937, seven of which are part of the NGC’s collection.
Although Watkins started working in a Pictorialist style of photography, making soft-focused images of literary and sometimes sentimental subjects, she continued to push the boundaries of what was acceptable in terms of subject matter. Her images of ordinary domestic objects set new standards for the genre of still-life photography and she was one of the earliest photographers whose art also found a purpose in the world of advertising.
“Margaret Watkins pushed the limits of modern photography in 1920s New York. We are delighted to provide the public with an opportunity to discover the work of this remarkable but largely forgotten Canadian artist,” said NGC Director Marc Mayer. “Thanks to Joseph Mulholland, former neighbour and friend, who has looked after Watkins’ photographs since her death in 1969, we can now appreciate the full measure of her art and her place within the history of photography”
The sub-title of the exhibition, Domestic Symphonies, refers to one of Watkins’ still life scenes, an elegant study of three eggs on an enamel draining board, made in 1919, that she titled Domestic Symphony. The show traces Watkins’ career path, from her early days in Boston, where she was hired as an assistant in a commercial photography studio, to her life in New York, where she taught at the famous Clarence H. White School of Photography, and subsequently to Paris, Cologne, the USSR and Glasgow, where she settled in 1928.
The exhibition opens with a series of portraits of the artist. It goes on to explore the period between 1915 and 1928, during which she studied photography at the Clarence H. White School and eventually began to secure contracts from major advertising agencies such as the J. Walter Thompson company. In 1921, the magazine Vanity Fair featured Watkins’ photographs in an article about the artist and her work, praising her “Modernist’ and “Cubist” images.
Margaret Watkins: Domestic Symphonies also includes photographs produced while she lived in Scotland from 1928 onwards, when she travelled to Germany andFrance and began to do street photography using storefronts, their display models and luxury items as subjects. Visitors will also have a chance to view remarkable works created in the USSR, during a visit there in 1933.
Image Courtesy of Robertmann.com