Eva Prager O.C.
Eva Prager lived from October 9th 1912 until June 24th 2010. She was born in Berlin, the only daughter of the famous artist Joseph Oppenheimer R.P. and his wife Fanny. By all accounts she was extremely good-looking, and remained so until her death She started painting and drawing as a small child and was clearly very gifted – she always said she only passed each school year on the strength of her artistic ability!
She initially studied under her father’s guidance but then had more formal art education at the Berlin Fine Arts Academy [Academie der Feinen Künste], the Royal College of Art in London and at the École Paul Colin in Paris, where she lived with Marc Chagall's daughter, Ida.
Already in Germany in the early 1930's and still a teenager, she started her art career doing commercial art work for various companies; but with the election of Adolf Hitler in 1933, she and her parents left Germany for good, and sailed to England on the luxury liner Bremen. In England she continued her commercial art work both for commercial enterprises as well as for theatres, becoming a set designer and working with the famous Oliver Messel. There also, on October 16th, 1934, she married Ernst Richard Prager. She first cast eyes on Richard in 1931 when Eva and her parents were walking through a beautiful area of country houses en route to have tea with Albert Einstein, a friend of Joseph Oppenheimer whom he had recently painted. As they passed a neighboring house she looked up, saw Richard playing chamber music on the balcony with his two brothers, and fell in love. She saw him again that night at the movies. Richard told his father that evening that he would marry Eva. He did! Vincent was born in 1944, in the middle of the London bombing Blitz. Eva had previously suffered several miscarriages and had to stay in bed seven months to ensure a successful birth, only leaving her bed from time to time to move into the family’s bomb shelter in their garden when bombings occurred.
Eva continued her commercial art career during and after WWll in London, as well as in Canada after the family moved to Montreal in July 1949. In Canada. she was commissioned by many major companies, such as Courtauld’s, Holt Renfrew, and C. I. L., to illustrate their products. These were reproduced in magazines and newspapers around the country. She also designed magazine covers and illustrated magazine articles for numerous Canadian publications such as Chatelaine, the Montrealer, Weekend Magazine and the Westmount Examiner. She was sent by Weekend Magazine to Hollywood in 1961 to paint the children of several famous movie stars such as Debbie Reynolds, Jayne Mansfield and Alan Ladd. She became friendly with Jayne Mansfield, who came for dinner – in the Prager kitchen – the following year when she visited Montreal.
While this aspect of her artistic ability was growing, she expanded her talents and began her lengthy additional career as a portraitist, both of children and of adults. Many Canadian and American homes displayed her talents, among them famous people in Canada, the USA and abroad, such as Pierre Trudeau as well as his children, Governors-General Sauvé and Clarkson, Supreme Court Chief Justice Gérald Fauteux, Marc Garneau), Craig Kielberger, Rudolph Nureyev, Celia Franca, Yehudi Menuhin, Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling, Pierre Berton, Archbishop Daniel Bohan, His Eminence Metropolitan Saliba, Archbishop of the Antiochian Church of North America, to name just a few.
While spending more and more time painting portraits, Eva also was prolific in painting landscapes and flowers, specializing in her light and bright colours. These works can now be found all over the world.
Eva was always very interested in the well-being of children and she combined that love with her aspiration for world peace into Children for Peace, an organization she founded in 1980 and for which she was President. She was very active in involving children of all ages and backgrounds in the pursuit of peace. Using her strong will and personal charm, she enlisted the support of all whom she approached, from Prime Minister Trudeau, Government Ministers, the Canadian Government as well as business, service and community organizations, religious groups and numerous individuals from all walks of life. She even succeeded in arranging that her theatre troop of young children perform their peace message centre stage at the United Nations in New York, which took place on May 5th 1986 during the International Year of Peace. Parallel to this, for many, many years she designed Christmas cards and calenders, without pay, for the Canadian Save the Children Fund, Unicef, the Unitarian Service Committee and the Montreal Children's Hospital, to name just a sampling.
For her artistic contributions to art and for her many efforts on behalf of children Eva was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2000.
Eva's work is on display in many private collections all over the world, in museums and galleries, and in institutions as diverse as the Montreal Children's Hospital and the Canadian War Museum.
Eva loved travelling. She was not very comfortable flying - she always kissed the doorframe of any aircraft in which she flew if she could not kiss the Captain directly - but it did not stop many visits to Rockport, Massachusetts, to Europe as well as to her son Vincent’s home, Dayspring, in St. Andrews, New Brunswick [now the home of the Oppenheimer-Prager Museum at Dayspring] and even often to Barbados, the last visit being just before her major stroke in April 2010,
Eva died in her studio shortly before her 98th birthday on June 24th 2010 and is buried next to her husband Richard and her parents in Mount Royal Cemetery. She was a woman of the world, and held a very artistic view of religion, such that, while she professed to be a Jewish Buddhist, her eulogy was written by her good friend the Most Rev. Daniel Bohan, Archbishop of Saskatchewan. She was truly a unique individual.