Paraskeva Clark, Myself, 1933, oil on canvas.

Paraskeva Clark, Myself (detail), 1933. Oil on canvas, 101.6 × 76.7 cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Purchased 1974 © Estate of Paraskeva Clark. Photo: NGC

Uninvited: Canadian Women Artists in the Modern Moment

Discover a lesser-known chapter in Canadian art history

Uninvited celebrates a generation of extraordinary women painters, photographers, weavers, beadworkers and sculptors from a century ago. Together, they opened up new frontiers for women artists in Canada, as seen in this cross-country snapshot of female creativity during the dynamic interwar period.

Incorporating the work of settler and Indigenous visual artists in a stirring affirmation of the female creative voice, Uninvited challenges the notion of the quintessential Canadian artist. It explores the diversity of women creators from coast to coast to coast, many of whom have been neglected by traditional art history. What emerges is a vibrant social mandate for art, moving away from the unpopulated wilderness portrayed by many of the era’s male artists to a poignant examination of cities, resource extraction, social issues, human psychology, the displacement of Indigenous peoples, and the immigrant experience. These women depicted what their male counterparts were perhaps less inclined to see, producing art from a place of deep humanity, curiosity and intelligence.

Featuring nearly 200 works of art, the National Gallery of Canada’s presentation of Uninvited includes more than 30 works from its own collection. The Gallery is thrilled to be the fourth and final venue for this remarkable exhibition, which offers a fuller and more diverse picture of the visual arts in Canada during a pivotal modern moment.

Organized by the McMichael Canadian Art Collection with the exceptional support of the National Gallery of Canada


Until August 20, 2023


National Gallery of Canada Special Exhibitions Galleries
380 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, ON K1N 9N4

The process of the growth of a nation’s art is the process of the growth of the soul of a nation, of the conscience of that nation. —Paraskeva Clark



Don’t miss Inspired Words, a special audio tour developed in conjunction with Uninvited.

Begin tour

Concert Series:
Enjoy music inspired by the exhibition. 

Listen Now

Did You Know?

Isabel McLaughlin, Tree,

Isabel McLaughlin, Tree, 1935. Oil on canvas, 203.5 × 92 cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Purchased 1984. © The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa. Photo: NGC


Most of the leading women artists in Canada during the first part of the twentieth century were highly trained, often having studied at the premier art schools of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, and in New York, London and Paris. Whereas prominent male artists of the day were largely trained in commercial illustration and graphic design.


Isabel McLaughlin was mocked for her painting of a fearsome and overpowering tree, with critics implicitly asserting that landscape was an exclu­sively male pursuit. Yet she persisted.


In contrast to the theatrical and often doom-laden handling of Indigenous themes by male artists, who saw a dying way of life, a number of settler women artists in this period express a quiet kinship and gentle intrigue with these living communities, seeking to learn what they could.


As left-wing ideals about the social order were emerging in Canada, thanks to the crushing legacy of the Depression and the rise of totalitarianism in Europe, artists such as the Russian-born Paraskeva Clark and the Montreal painter Marian Dale Scott were deeply engaged with the movement toward a more equitable society.


In cities after WWI, women created new kinds of social relations in places of their own devising. The sculptors Frances Loring and Florence Wyle, for instance, took over a church hall and declared it home, creating a free space for ideas and explorations of all sorts, challenging both the gender norms and the sculptural practices of the day through their powerful subjects.


Women from Black and Mi'kmaq communities in Nova Scotia made traditional baskets and boxes to sell outside the entrance to the Halifax Market – both being unwelcome inside the market doors. In both cases, the making of these goods marked a connection to the generations of women in their families who had come before them.


During this period, industrial subjects and Cubist elements defined the work of women painters such as Bess Larkin Housser Harris and Kathleen Munn, while others found epiphany in the lines of everyday objects. This is particularly true of Margaret Watkins, whose photographs of daily domestic routine feature the handsome curve of a porcelain sink or a coiled rubber shower hose, claimed by fresh eyes.


Emily Carr called her tree stumps “screamers,” identifying them as victims of human greed. Her paintings caution but also comfort, as the heavens overhead seem to offer solace and a return of the life force.

Margaret Watkins, The Kitchen Sink

Margaret Watkins, The Kitchen Sink, c. 1919. Palladium print, 21.3 × 16.4 cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Purchased 1984 with the assistance of a grant from the Government of Canada under the terms of the Cultural Property Export and Import Act. © Joseph Mulholland, Glasgow, Scotland. Photo : NGC


Let’s talk art

Have questions about the art you see? Look for our friendly interpreters throughout the exhibition on weekends and holidays.


In this video, Dr. Charmaine A. Nelson, Provost Professor of Art History and Director of Slavery North Initiative, University of Massachusetts discusses Prudence Heward’s Dark Girl (1935).


An Art Historian on Prudence Heward’s Dark Girl

Upcoming Events


In a complementary initiative to Uninvited, the National Gallery of Canada’s department of Indigenous Ways and Decolonization has created an adjacent Ancestors’ Gallery, a “show within a show,” which presents works by once-known Indigenous artists.

What does “uninvited” mean in an Indigenous context? Have Indigenous artists ever been invited to the table? Historically, both Indigenous men and women were left out. Oftentimes colonizers and settlers assumed Indigenous men to be leaders, but failed to recognize women’s important and powerful roles within their own families, communities and nations.

The seven works in this room have been selected from the many regions represented in the Gallery’s collection of historical Indigenous art. Created between the late 1700s and the 1920s, these works tell the stories of their cultural and practical purposes, their materiality and how they moved from their communities of origin and became part of the national collection.

Indigenous art specialists are researching the works in this collection, beginning with these seven ancestors, and will continue this important work on other historical Indigenous artworks in the Gallery’s holdings.


Uninvited catalogue cover.


A monument to the talent of Canadian women artists in the interwar period, Uninvited: Canadian Women Artists in the Modern Moment provides a full and diverse cross-country survey of the art made by women during this pivotal time, incorporating the work of both settler and Indigenous visual artists in a stirring affirmation of the female creative voice.

Available in the Gallery Boutique and online

Related Content

Organized and circulated by:

With exceptional support from:

Exclusive transportation provider:

The National Gallery of Canada presentation is supported by Reesa Greenberg.