June 24 to September 17, 2006
This outstanding retrospective of Edwin Holgate’s work, organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, is the first since the artist’s death in 1977. The exhibition explores many aspects of this versatile artist’s production, included early works from his Montreal and Paris training, portraits of his Montreal circle of friends and family, paintings in oil and watercolour, his work as a war artist, and prints from his trip to the Skeena River region of British Columbia.
While in Skeena River, B.C. with his friend A.Y. Jackson and the anthropologist Marius Barbeau, in 1926 Holgate sketched and painted the Skeena River peoples, as well as the region’s mountains and villages. He also drew on all these subjects of Canadian life for his wood engravings, which were a very important part of his production in the 1920s and early 1930s. He became a leader in the development of wood engraving in Canada. Wood engraving was an art he admired, as he wrote in 1933, “for its directness of statement – its crisp whites and rich blacks –…its luminous quality that lends itself to bold design, a dramatic intensity and severity which no other medium possesses, to the same degree.” Holgate’s interest in this medium ultimately led to commissions for book illustration and to a position as a teacher of wood engraving at the École des beaux-arts de Montréal from 1926 to 1935.
Although best known for his portraits and studies of the nude figure, Holgate loved the outdoors and was also attracted to landscape painting. He built a log cabin on a remote part of Lac Tremblant and painted many Laurentian canvases from his doorstep.
By the 1930s, Holgate was at the peak of his achievements, painting such masterful works as the portrait of Ludivine, in which he captured the haunting expression of a young girl in mourning, and his sensual nudes in the landscape, in which the rhythms of nature are repeated in the soft contours and fluid lines of the human body. The members of the Group of Seven admired Holgate’s figure work and, in 1929, invited him to become a Group member. Inspired by their work, Holgate painted the undulating hills of Charlevoix, views of Percé Rock, and the fishing cabins in Natashquan near the Labrador border.
It is a tribute to Holgate’s reputation that so many of his major works are in museums and public art galleries across Canada. The National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the Canadian War Museum, and the Musée du Québec are just some of the museums lending their finest Holgate works to the show. Other works have never been exhibited before and have been most generously lent by private collectors.
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Edwin Holgate, 1892-1977
oil on canvas
76.3 63.9 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Vincent Massey Bequest, 1968