Art and Rivalry

The Marriage of Mary and Christopher Pratt

Reviewed by Henrietta Roi

Posted July 28, 2020

Carol Bishop-Gwyn’s book Art and Rivalry explores the work and marriage of two noted Canadian artists, Mary and Christopher Pratt. Bishop-Gwyn examines the Pratts’ lives, from their childhoods, to their meeting as students in New Brunswick, to their lives together in Newfoundland and their lengthy but eventually fraught relationship.

In Art and Rivalry, anecdotes are interspersed within a semi-chronological narrative to tell about the complex relationship between spouses who were in some ways competitors. Yet it was a relationship that often proved beneficial to their work.

For instance, one evening after dinner, Mary began to sketch the table with its used dishes and unfinished food. Because the daylight was fading, Christopher took some photographs of the setting. His photos were used by Mary to create Supper Table (1969), which cemented her now-iconic style.

Art and Rivalry balances rich descriptions of artworks with discussions of their meanings and the circumstances under which they were created. The book also includes several photographs of the Pratts.

Bishop-Gwyn, who is a former journalist and CBC Radio arts producer, tracks a broad evolution of the late-twentieth-century Canadian art market through the lives of the two artists. She also provides a comprehensive look at a unique spousal relationship and the difficulties associated with sharing a sometimes high-stakes profession.


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This article originally appeared in the August-September 2020 issue of Canada’s History.

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