(Allandale, Ontario, 1892 – Montréal 1977)
Departing People, Skeena River
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.