Sylvia Ary was a prominent artist in the Montreal cultural milieu and a member of the Jewish Painters of Montreal.
Born in Moscow, Ary was the eldest child of Alexander Bercovitch, a painter, and Bryna Avrutick, a drama student and revolutionary who went on to become a journalist. Her family fled poverty and persecution in Russia, arriving in Montreal in 1926. Avrutick found employment in a Jewish school managed by one of her brothers, while Ary, only four years old at the time, took care of her younger sister. The family lived hand-to-mouth, staying in one of the schoolrooms, which meant that they had to move several times, in order to follow the school as it changed locations.
Ary began drawing classes at a young age, with Fritz Brandtner, a world-class artist credited with introducing German expressionism to Canada. At 14, she won a Canada-wide children’s competition (1937). Then, while at Baron Byng High School, she met Ann Savage, an art teacher who encouraged her to continue her artistic development at the Montreal Fine Arts Museum.
Ary studied etching at the Montreal Institute of Graphic Arts, under Albert Dumouchel, as well as lithography. She would later combine many of these techniques and begin to use acrylic, in addition to charcoal, pastel, ink, watercolours and oils. She also tried her hand at sculpture and experimented with painting on a variety of materials: paper, canvas, Masonite and Plexiglas, as well as less traditional materials such as fans. Ary’s outstanding skill as a portrait painter, however, is what she is best known for.
Her vibrant portraits and cityscapes established her as an artistic visionary uniquely skilled at depicting immigrant life in Montreal, and resonated deeply with residents of all backgrounds. She produced a large number of portraits of people from all walks of life, from unknown models to well-known stage and literary personalities.
Her paintings can be viewed at public institutions and private collections, including: Laval, Moncton, Montreal, Quebec, Toronto and Vancouver (in Canada), Austin, Boston, Cambridge, New York and San Francisco (in the US), Paris and London (in Europe), and at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel. Her work is on display at the National Museum of Fine Arts of Quebec as well as at galleries, museums and libraries around the world.