For her subjects, Emily Coonan favoured women and children in interior spaces. Devoid of sentiment and narrative elements, “Study”, as the title suggests, is a study in tonality. The complementary pinks and greens, the predominant use of white, the thinly applied paint layers and the pose itself reflect the Aestheticism that preceded the artist’s later, brasher exploration of Post-Impressionism. Whoever the figure may have been (quite likely the artist’s sister Eva), its primary purpose here is to allow an exploration of form and colour.
Coonan entered the Art Association of Montreal (AAM) school around 1905 and quickly became its star pupil. Irish-Canadian and devoutly Catholic, she was not like the other students, who generally came from wealthier Protestant families. By 1913, she was lauded as a “Point St. Charles prodigy” (a reference to the working-class neighbourhood in which she resided), and in 1914 she received the National Gallery Trustees’ first annual Travelling Scholarship. Coonan would go on to exhibit nationally and internationally, and to rent studio space at the famed 305 Beaver Hall Hill building, but by the early 1930s she had stopped exhibiting altogether, preferring to continue practising her art within the confines of her family.
Study was included in the AAM’s 1910 Spring Exhibition. Although Coonan had had sketches accepted the previous two years, this was the first time she exhibited finished canvases. Her submissions were described by The Montreal Herald as “the work of a born colorist of more than average talent.” The exhibition signalled the launch of Coonan’s bright but brief artistic career.