Mildred Peel

Other Names: Mildred Margaret Peel, Lady Ross

Mildred Peel  was among the first women in Canada to create works of public art.

Mildred Peel was born in 1856 in London, Ontario. She was the eldest child of John Robert Peel and Amelia Margaret Hall. Her parents, originally from London, England, came to London, Ontario in the early 1850s.

Mildred’s artistic talent was apparent during her childhood, and she grew up in a household that supported her interests. Her father was an artist and art teacher, and also owned a granite and monument company. Mildred studied art with her father, and alongside her brother artist Paul Peel (1860-1892), worked on sculptures for the company, often doing fine carving. However, despite this, Mildred was not offered the same training that her father sought out for Paul.

Mildred Peel’s main artistic focus throughout her career was portrait work, through both painted portraits and sculpture busts. Mildred and Paul would share an art studio for a short time in the early 1880s, and over the next decade, they both exhibited at the Western Fair in London, Ontario and the Toronto Industrial Exhibition. In 1883, she worked in Winnipeg, Manitoba, painting portraits, and c.1886-1887 received a commission from Ontario’s Minister of Education to create a series of portrait busts for the Provincial Educational Museum at the Normal School in Toronto. She was among the first Canadian women to be commissioned to create public sculptures.

Mildred Peel attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in the mid-1880s, and then the Académie Julien in Paris in 1886. In Paris, Mildred and Paul Peel lived together while training at the studio of artist Benjamin Constant. Although Paul lived mainly in Paris from 1880 onwards (and was married there in 1886), he would visit Canada often.

After her return to Canada, Mildred shared a studio in Toronto with her sister
Clara Louise Peel (1862-1938) in 1887 and 1888. Clara Peel sought to be a professional sculptor and go to Paris for her art education as her sister had done; however, like many women artists of that time period, she did not pursue her goal after her marriage, which took place in 1899.

In the late 1880s, Mildred Peel exhibited her work with the Ontario Society of Artists (1886-1889), the Art Association of Montreal (1889) and the Royal Canadian Academy of Art (1889); she was elected a member of the Ontario Society of Artists in 1889. In the fall of 1890 Mildred returned to Europe to continue her training, travelling not only with Paul at this time, but also her father and fellow London artist Florence Carlyle.

In 1901, Mildred Peel made a bust of Laura Secord, the Canadian heroine of the War of 1812. At the time of its installation at Lundy’s Lane, Niagara Falls, Ontario, the Ontario Historical Society proudly stated that not only was this bust Canada’s first public memorial dedicated to a woman, but it had been made by a woman as well. In 1905, the Ontario government purchased a portrait of Laura Secord painted by Mildred Peel to be display at Queen’s Park.

Mildred Peel married George William Ross in 1907. Ross was the former Ontario Minister of Education as well as the former Premier of Ontario (the man responsible for the Ontario government’s commission of Mildred’s work for the Toronto Normal School and the purchase of her Laura Secord portrait). Ross was knighted in 1910, and Mildred Peel became “Lady Mildred Ross.” While she did not give up her art practice when she married, Mildred created less work afterwards.

Mildred Peel moved to the United States sometime in the late 1890s. She passed away in February 1920, in Santa Barbara, California.

Biography by Natalka Duncan and Luvneet K. Rana

SOURCES, Mildred Peel   

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