EDWIN HEADLEY HOLGATE, R.C.A.
Private Collection, United Kingdom
Private Collection, Toronto
Brian Foss and Rosalind Pepall, Edwin Holgate, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, 2005, pages 14 and 166.
Boats with Lanterns stands apart from the majority of portraits, nudes and landscapes so readily associated with Edwin Holgate (1892-1977). In fact, at first glance the painting can prompt a moment of doubt, assuaged only once the work is correctly contextualized. Boats with Lanterns was likely painted when Holgate was first embarking on his career as an artist. In 1912, at the age of twenty, Holgate travelled to France to further his education, encouraged by William Brymner under whom he had studied at the Art Association of Montreal. In 1913, he cycled through Europe with two friends, setting out from France and stopping in Switzerland and Italy, including Venice.
As a young painter, Holgate was impressed by the American painter James McNeill Whistler. While visiting Venice, he remarked on Whistler’s interpretation of the city’s great basilica San Marco, noting that Whistler was a master because “He chose the time when (the basilica) showed to best advantage – at night”. Perhaps inspired by his idol, in this lot Holgate has also chosen a time of day that emphasizes deep contrast. The densely silhouetted black boats (possibly gondolas) and the beautiful skyline (possibly looking towards the Giudecca from the Bacino) are suggested but not quite fully described, provide the contrast between light and dark that Holgate appreciated. The green-blue tones are of course ones he favoured in his work and appear throughout his career.