A Venetian Bather (1889)
Paul Peel was possibly the first Canadian painter who gained a European reputation and spent much of his time there (mainly in Paris), rather than in his native country. He was born in London, Ontario in 1860 to English born parents. His father was a stone carver and drawing teacher and Peel flourished artistically as a youngster, winning his first prize at the age of fifteen. At the age of sixteen he was accepted at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. He returned home in 1880 before travelling to Paris where he studied under Gérôme. Back in Canada in 1883 his paintings were exhibited in Toronto and Montreal before he returned to Europe. He met and married a Danish painter and while visiting her homeland in 1886 sold a picture to Princess Alexandra, the Danish wife of the Prince of Wales. Having painted mainly landscapes and portraits he started to work on nudes in the late 1880s of which this one, The Venetian Bather (1889) is the best known. He became the first Canadian painter to produce nudes and this picture is a successful mix of the sensuous and the academic and, indeed, the classical. Her pose, with her wight on one leg, turns her body into a sinuous curve.
The Little Shepherdess (1892)
This painting, The Little Shepherdess, shows, in the background his increasing interest in impressionism, rather than the more academic style he had learned in Paris. Peel painted a number of pictures of naked children: often in bathing scenes. They were, of course quite innocent and are exercises in tone and lighting more than anything else. Although The Little Shepherdess (which I have seen in the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto) looks equally innocent, Victorian viewers would have been well aware that the depiction of the girl's toe in the water indicates that she has lost her virginity and is, therefore, a girl who has become a woman. Peel died, probably of flu, in Paris not long after this painting was exhibited, at the age of 31, his promise not yet really realised.