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Pictou artist with piece in National Gallery of Canada’s permanent collection


A photo of Jean MacLean’s painting “Old Court Yard, St. Vincent, Montreal.”

Our National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa is one of the most esteemed art institutions in the world, celebrated for its excellent collections and praised for its exceptional ability to engage audiences of all ages and all levels of artistic knowledge.

When our National Gallery asks an artist if they may purchase one of their creations for their permanent collections, it is certainly an honour. A Pictou born women had just that distinction back in the 1921. Jean MacLean’s oil painting “Old Court Yard, St. Vincent, Montreal” was on exhibition and received rave reviews. When acquired by the National Gallery a copy was produced and given to the City of Montreal Courthouse.

Sarah Jean (Munro) MacLean was born in the town of Pictou in the year 1879, Jean MacLean was called one of Canada’s most distinguished women painters and would go on to have an exceptional career as an artist. She would obtain her early education at Pictou Academy, where she showed exceptional artistic and singing talent. Ms. MacLean was encouraged by her family and the Academy to further her creative abilities. Exceptional talent was shown early in her career.

After high school Jean Munro moved to the Unites States and studied voice at first at the Boston Conservatory, but midway through had a change of heart about her career and began the serious study of painting.” Jean trained under the famous New England landscape and portrait artist Ellen M. Carpenter.

Jean MacLean excelled at this vocation; she was encouraged to further her studies. She then moved to England and enrolled at the prestigious Heatherley School of Art in London and then to the Liverpool School of Art, where she graduated with honours and was awarded her teaching diploma.

After her return to Canada she was asked to give a command art exhibition to the Marquis of Lorne, Governor General of Canada in Montreal. This was the city in which Jean MacLean settled and married Rev. Lachlan A. MacLean. Jean immediately became involved with the city’s artistic scene, joining the Women’s Art Association and the Art Association of Montreal. The group was described as “one of the earliest organizations in Canada for woman artists and helped pave the way for integration of women in the art world.”

Jean organized sketching and studio classes in the Montreal area. She also became very involved in the church and combined her talent with religion. Jean MacLean became the first convener of the Studio Group, greatly interested in young people’s work in the church; she was the first chairperson of the Girl’s Work Board of Religious Education Association. She also held several executive positions in the Presbyterian and United Church women’s groups in Canada.

Many of Jean MacLean’s paintings and watercolors are in public and private collections throughout Canada. Some of her artwork may be seen and purchased online. Jean (Munro) MacLean passed away in Montreal at her daughter’s home on Feb. 21, 1952. She is buried at Haliburton Cemetery, Pictou.


John Ashton of Bridgeville is a local historian and the province’s representative to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

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