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Figure 15. Art Association of Montreal

Audrey returned to Montreal after World War I, discovering a city bursting of prosperity and cultural change. Montreal now hosted a thriving port, economic expansion and development exploded. Many Montrealer’s moved from what was known as the “Old Montreal to the new downtown “New Town”.[63] The shifts were seen with the arts as well. Many who favored the arts moved to live near the Montreal Art Association, where the art scene blossomed. Musicians, writers, and artists harnessing the excitement of the time began pushing the boundaries of traditional art.  However, some nontraditional artists found it challenging to find space to exhibit their art. In response to this challenge, a group of  7 artists signed a lease in  October of 1920, in the Beaver Hall Hill neighborhood, forming a short lived coalition of painters that made a significant impact on Montreal’s art scene. They had two rooms for galleries and four rooms dedicated for studio space.[64] The artist coalition grew to twenty -four  known members. They were aptly named for the neighborhood of their studios, The Beaver Hall Group. The first president of The Beaver Hall Group A. Y Jackson stated,

“The Beaver Hall group stands for work slight or profound, if it expresses sincerity, assuring its members a chance of exhibition. It clears the mind of the artist of certain standards which, many feel, kill the fire, which is vital to painting as it is to the other arts”…. schools and ‘isms do not trouble us: individual expression is our chief concern.” [65]


The Beaver Hall Group was united in their focus on expression of contemporary urban life while retaining their individualism though their varied subject matter and style. They painted a variety of subjects from portraits, to nudes, compositions, rural and urban landscapes.

“Their aesthetic predilections favored individual freedom as expressed though colour and style on a variety of subjects taken from contemporary life”. …“More picturesque than modern. Their animated urbane scenes depict a bustling, growing metropolis, their straightforward portraits size us up with all the gravity of a society out to prove itself; instead of rationalistic folklore, they exude confidence-both in oneself and in the future.’’ [66]

But not everyone appreciated their modern approach as one critic wrote ‘“ The aim is not harmonious tones, but colors that dazzle like the screech of a trumpet’.”[67]

Two weeks after signing the lease, The Beaver Hall group held their first exhibition. “The lighting was quite good and rather more intimate than the big galleries” [68] Little is known about who exhibited as only an announcement for the show has been documented and the press did not attend the show. Perhaps due to the quick timing and the intimate exhibition space the artists only invited friends and family to the show.

The Beaver Hall Group not only embodied a modern approach to their painting but also with their inclusivity. They brought together painters from Toronto as well as Montreal. Even more noteworthy was their inclusivity of women. Artistic counterparts, the Pen and Pencil Club and the Arts Club,  did not allow women to join. It is said that half of the members of the Beaver Hall Group were women, creating one of the first entrées into professionalism for female artists. “These women artists asserted their individuality with determination, talent, and commitment … far from the stereotypes of young ladies from good families dabbling with a brush” [69] This is not to say that the Beaver Hall artists were not from ‘good families’ as they as many of its members attended society events with “Montreal’s upper crust.” [70]

Audrey Buller, not known as an official member of the Beaver Hall group had a strong association through her first known teacher and founding member, Randolph Hewton.  Hewton had a long history with the Buller family having studied at the Art Association with  Audrey’s sister Marguerite .[71] Audrey Buller’s personal letter stated:

“Randolph Stanly Hewton was the most delightful of men. He had a delicious and whimsical sense of humor, and was warm, generous and very kind. Our family (the Buller’s) have known Randolph Hewton all of our lives. He was a great friend of both my sisters, Marguerite Buller Allan and Cecil Buller Murphy- both painters”.[72]


The members  and students of The Beaver Hall Group supported one another and could often be seen as the subject in each other’s portraits.  Randolph Hewton was known to have painted Audrey Buller on six occasions. Describing her first portrait by Hewton, Audrey Buller wrote:

It was “painted when Randoph had his studio on Beaver Hall Hill , Montreal about 1919-1920… He returned to Canada at the end of the war and took a studio on Beaver Hall Hill, above Lilias Newton’s studio. This is where he painted 1 portrait of me, and where I first met started painting in oil with him “. [73]

Miss Audrey Buller 1919-1920.png

Figure 16. Miss Audrey Buller c. 1919-20

The painting Miss Audrey Buller was shown at the Beaver Hall’s first Official “Annual Exhibition” held January 17-29, 1921. There were fifty works of art represented at that the show. The Montreal Gazette noted that fifteen women, many of them students, were in attendance. Present were Audrey and Cecil Buller. The Gazette described the portrait of Audrey Buller as, “an effective portrait of a girl in a red dress against a decorative background”.[74] 

Albert Laberge in La Presse wrote of the exhibition,  “Some of the most enthusiastic and gifted members of the new generation of painters have, in fact, just formed a group that has already gotten down to work … this organization appears called on to play a meaningful role and exert a powerful influence on painting in our province”. [75]

Miss Audrey Buller was exhibited again six months later as Hewton’s sole entry at the Montreal Art Association’s Spring Exhibition ( Cat 116).[76] The Director of The National Gallery of Canada, “Eric Brown, who saw the work at the Salon, wrote to Dr Francis J Shepherd, president of the Art Association’s council: “I was so struck with Hewton’s portrait of Audrey Buller that I wrote and asked him if it was for sale”. [77] He was ultimately able to acquire it for the National Gallery of Canada.

Although The Beaver Hill group made a stance to support a new modern approach to painting, the members did not reject the traditional artistic institutions of Montreal. Many of the  members were simultaneously a part of the Montreal Art Association (now called Montreal Museum of Fine Arts) and, the male members remained a part of the Pen and Pencil club. Randolph Hewton, while teaching at The Beaver Hall studios was also an instructor at the Art Association .

Audrey Buller while also receiving instruction from Hewton at The Beaver Hall studios also enrolled as a student in the Art School of The Montreal Art Association from 1920-1923.[78] The Art Association was created in 1863 to create “A pioneer Canadian society of artists and collections”.[79] Audrey, following in the artistic footsteps of her sister Cecil, studied under William Brymner, who served as the Director of the Association for 35 years.[80] In 1921, perhaps indicating a slight cultural shift in the time, Randolph  Hewton was hired to replace Brymner as director of the Art Association. The Montreal Gazette describes Hewton as “a young man energetic, and well up in modern methods”[81] With Hewton at the helm, the enrollment of students in the Association began to rise. “His Beaver Hall Hill students, in particular his young female pupils-such as Audrey Buller, but several others associated with the group- would follow him to the Art Gallery, where he would exert a certain influence”.[82] We can discern from Audrey Buller studying under Hewton at The Beaver Hall studios and at the Montreal Art Association that he had become one of the first strong artistic influences as her talent begins to be noted.

In 1922-1923 The Art Association had its first formal award ceremony paired with an exhibition in the Art Gallery’s Lecture Hall. Eleven works were awarded prizes. Audrey Buller won 2 awards of acclaim the Art Association Prize for Composition and the Kenneth Macpherson prize for best painting, which she shared with Isobel Wright. [83]

Perhaps the sense of humor Audrey Buller relished in Hewton was a trait they held in common, as shared with her daughters when she was at  the Association, “She and a group of friends stole the fig leaves off all the statues. The school was closed down until the fig leaves were returned as it would be too indecent to show the nude statues without them”.[84]

Randolph Hewton became the second President of the Beaver Hall Group in 1922. Being both the President of the Art Association and The Beaver Hall Group, the students from the Association likely may have been granted exhibition space in Beaver Hall . The Beaver Hall Group held their second show was January, 1922.[85] It was said that due to the strong friendship and support of the members of The Beaver Hill Group that many of the artists acquired one another’s works prior to openings of their exhibitions. “At the Spring Exhibition of 1923, the Red Shawl by Hewton was owned by Audrey Buller (1902-1984), an artist whose likeness was captured by Hewton several times; Buller painted the only known portrait of Hewton, which has only been recently discovered.” [86]Audrey Buller “may well have been one of the students exhibited by The Beaver Hall Group, all the more since the only known portrait of the master is attributed to her”. [87]

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Figure 17. Randolph Stanly Hewton

A month after Beaver Hall’s second show, Eric Brown the Director of the National Gallery of Canada wrote to Hewton saying that we wanted to take works of art from painters from Montreal and Toronto to London in the spring of 1923 to be considered for inclusion in a British Empire exhibition the following year. The British Empire Exhibition was held in Wembley Park to celebrate the achievements of the British Commonwealth. There were 200 acres of exhibitions celebrating  art, industry and agriculture which attracted 25 million visitors.[88] This was  the first time all the British Commonwealth artists would be exhibited together at the Palace of Arts. Two hundred and seventy Canadian artists were selected for the Wembley Park Exhibition (April 24-October 1924).[89] The Canadians had the largest exhibition space and the modernists were in the largest gallery. Ten Beaver Hall members were represented including, Randolph Hewton’s portrait of Miss Audrey Buller.[90]  The critics wrote “The Canadians have found their own method… Hewton’s Miss Audrey Buller “striking in design and colour”. [91] The Wembley show then went on tour through three cities in England and Scotland ending in March 1925.[92]

Unfortunately following the initial show the traditionalists from the Royal Academy exerted their influence and ousted Hewton from his role as President of the Art Association. Not surprising the enrollment at the Association began to decline shortly after his departure.[93] The Beaver Hall Group did not renew their lease after 1923 and lost the physical location for their coalition. However, it’s  members still remained connected through their friendships. “Without a manifesto or an official list of its members, and without detailed knowledge of its programs and activities…  several of these artists were among the main proponents of figurative modernity in Montreal and across Canada, which explains our enduring interest in this ephemeral group and its legacy”. [94]

Due to their previous success, the Canadians artists were invited to exhibit in Wembley again May- October 1925. One hundred and ninety eight works of art were selected representing eighty three Canadian artists. Twenty two of these paintings were exhibited by 11 Beaver Hall Group members. [95]The Canadians once again drew high acclaim, “ Hewton’s likeness of Audrey Buller attracted the most notice”. [96] This great acclaim given to the Canadians was considered to be a pivotal moment of recognition for the modernist painters. With the enthusiasm garnered for the Canadians, Brown coordinated with the American Art Association of Museum Directors to create a traveling Exhibition in The United States with 40  Canadian works of art shown in eight exhibitions in seven states. [97]

Eric Brown was successful in acquiring the portrait of Miss Audrey Buller c 1919-20 for the National Gallery of Canada ‘s  permanent collection. [98] The National Gallery of Canada purchased  two additional portraits if her for their collection of Audrey Buller, Seated Figure, purchased in 1925, and “Miss Audrey Buller” c. 1922.[99]

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Figure 18. Miss Audrey Buller c. 1922-23

[63] Jaques Des Rochers and Brian Foss eds., The 1920’s Modernism in Montreal, The Beaver Hall Group, (London, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts/ Black Dog Publishing:2015),41.

[64] Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 66.

[65] Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 68.

[66] Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 24.

[67] Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 24.

[68] Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 64.

[69] Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 24.

[70] Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 50.

[71] Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 225.

[72] Letter from Audrey Buller to Charles Hill, Curator of National Gallery of Canada, 1982

[73] Letter from Audrey Buller to Charles Hill, Curator of National Gallery of Canada, 1982 and Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal,70.

[74] “Metropolitan Museum of Art Buys Canvas by Montrealer,” Montreal Gazette (Montreal, Quebec), July 23, 1938, accessed May 10, 2013, Google news.and Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 66,70.

[75] Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 68.

[76] Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 71.

[77] Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 71.

[78] Atwater, 12.

[79] “Art Association of Montreal”, accessed April 23, 2013,

[80] “Metropolitan Museum of Art Buys Canvas by Montrealer,” Montreal Gazette, July 23, 1938.

[81] Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 71.

[82] Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 71.

[83] Montreal Gazette July 23, 1938; Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 87.

[84] Oral Interview with Penelope Harris

[85] Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 88.

[86] Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 53.

[87] Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 85.


[89] Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 89.

[90] Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 89.

[91] Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 90

[92] Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 96.

[93] Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 90.

[94] Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 110.

[95] Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 96.

[96] Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 96.

[97] Des Rochers and Foss, 1920s Modernism in Montreal, 96.

[98] “Randolph  Hewton,” accessed January 24, 2013,; Montreal Gazette July 23, 1938.

[99] Montreal Gazette July 23, 1938.

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