This black-and-white engraving shows black poles standing on a hill with figures grouped among them. A mountainous landscape looms in the background while the long shadows of the poles and figures occupy the foreground.

Edwin Holgate

(Allandale, Ontario, 1892 – Montréal 1977)


Departing People, Skeena River


Wood engraving

22.5 x 19 cm

Gift of Robert and Margaret Hucal, 2012

Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 2012.007.001

© Estate of Edwin Holgate. Photo: Stephen Topfer

Departing People, Skeena River is from a series of eight engravings made by Edwin Holgate after travelling in the Skeena River region of British Columbia with the Canadian anthropologist Marius Barbeau (1883-1969). The black-and-white print depicts the totem poles of Gitsegukla community against a mountainous backdrop. The shadows of the poles merge with those of the Gitxsan people, evoking the exile or uprooting implied by the title. The artist used the clear, simplified geometric vocabulary of engraving to heighten the drama of the scene.

The portraitist, landscape artist and engraver Edwin Holgate was a major figure of modern art in Canada. After studying in Montréal under William Brymner and Maurice Cullen, he spent time in Paris, where he learned engraving. On returning to Montréal, he helped found the Beaver Hall Group. Holgate applied the expressive possibilities of engraving to the formal concerns of modern painting. His preferred subjects were portraits and nude figures, which he worked in a schematic yet sensual manner that recalls the nudes of Cecil Buller.


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Like Edwin Holgate, Cecil Buller practiced wood engraving and played an important role in the revival of this technique in the early 20th century. Inspired by the artistic avant-garde, Buller was one of the few women artists to work in engraving in those days. In New York, she earned considerable recognition for her woodcuts. Her masterpiece, Song of Solomon, is a suite of twelve engravings based on the love poems of the Biblical book of the same name. This work, with its pronounced geometric, graphic style, demonstrates the artist’s characteristic mastery and vigour.

Cecil Buller

(Montréal 1886 – Montréal 1973)


Song of Solomon, Chapter VIII, Verse 6


Wood engraving on japan paper

32.8 x 25.3 cm

Purchased in 1950

National Gallery of Canada, 5709

© Estate of Cecil Buller. Photo: National Gallery of Canada