Artwork by Walter Joseph Phillips,  York Boat on Lake Winnipeg

W.J. Phillips
York Boat on Lake Winnipeg

colour woodcut
signed, titled and numbered 59/150 in the lower margin
10.25 x 13.75 ins ( 26 x 34.9 cms ) ( image )

Auction Estimate: $20,000.00$15,000.00 - $20,000.00

Price Realized $19,550.00
Sale date: November 22nd 2016

Private Collection, Ontario
Nancy E. Green, Kate Rutherford and Toni Tomlinson, “Walter J. Phillips,” Portland, 2013, pages 27-30, illustrated page 30
Contrary to popular trends of the time, Phillips opted for the pursuit of precision and technical excellence in his artistic practice over the emotional representations of the Canadian landscape. The artist revelled in the technical process of creating works from the initial sketch and designing of the woodblock to producing exacting editions of his carefully constructed images.

Depicting the iconic trading vessel of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the scene is a token of Canada’s trading history. These boats played an integral role transporting goods from inland trading posts to York Factory on the Hudson Bay. “York Boat on Lake Winnipeg” offers a rare instance of emotion in Phillips’s work in comparison to the more picturesque landscape works developed through his traditional art training in Britain. With dramatic arching waves enhanced visually by the curved line-work occupying two thirds of the composition, a sublime portrayal of frustration of the boatmen is captured as they fight the wind and the ebbing tides. Perspective plays an integral role in the work enhancing the sublime in the dramatic scene. Influences of “Japonism” can be seen with the play of perspectives as the seagull in the foreground is disproportionally large to the island in the background. Rather than adhere to the practices of picturesque landscape art where the viewer can enjoy the scene at a safe distance, Phillips positions the viewer in this work as part of the scene looking onto the struggles of the men as the seagull swoops into the foreground near the viewer’s vantage point.

As one of Phillips’ most popular images, this work combines the artist’s technical mastery of the woodcut process and, importantly, the emotional ties to the Canadian landscape by the people occupying the land. Editions of this work are also included in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, The Glenbow Museum and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

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Walter Joseph Phillips
(1884 - 1963) RCA

W.J. Phillips was born in Lincolnshire, England in 1884. Trained at the Birmingham School of Art, he was a successful watercolour artist in England before he and his wife, Gladys, emigrated to Winnipeg in 1913. Although watercolour remained his primary medium, the woodblock print was an enduring interest which brought his work to a wider audience. Among W.J. Phillips’ best-known and loved images in watercolour and woodblock print are those which depict family holidays on Lake of the Woods from the teens until 1925. In 1940, Walter Phillips was asked to be artist in residence at the Banff School of Fine Arts. He moved to Calgary in 1941 where he taught at the provincial Institute of Technology and Art.

W.J. Phillips’ works are housed in galleries across Canada including The National Gallery of Canada, The Winnipeg Art Gallery, and the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies as well as collections abroad in London, Washington D.C., New Jersey, Japan, and private collections the world over. The most extensive private collection of work by Phillips was gifted to the city of Winnipeg. Permanently housed in the Pavilion Gallery Museum in Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park, the Crabb collection is available for public viewing year round.