Edwin Holgate in his Studio Photo: National Gallery of Canada

Edwin Holgate in his Studio
Photo: National Gallery of Canada

Ewin Holgate, 1892 - 1977

Edwin Headly Holgate was born in Allandale, Ontario although he would be raised in Quebec and take a very different route through his career choices than many of his contemporaries. 

After initial studies at the Art Association in Montreal, Holgate visited France in 1913 and then returned again from 1920 to 1922 to study. He studied with Russian artist Adolf Milman, who insisted on strong bold lines and colour and introduced Holgate to drawing the nude, a stark contrast to the landscape-loving artists of Canada.

Holgate studied Modernism and Cubism as it was unfolding in Paris and incorporated elements into his own work. At this time he also became interested in woodblock printing and collected Japanese woodblock prints. Later,he would bring them home to Canada and use them to line the walls his printing studio.

In 1926, Holgate made a trip to northwestern British Columbia with A.Y. Jackson and Marious Barbeau. They travelled along the Skeena River, visiting small Gitsan villages. He was deeply moved by the Tsimshian Indians, disparaged by what he felt was their “rapid decline”, he became dark and brooding on the trip. This is reflected in the prints he made upon the completion of the trip. 

By the late 1920’s, Holgate had become friends with a group of writers in Montreal and used his woodblock designs to illustrate their stories and publications. He also took a position teaching wood engraving at the École des Beaux-Arts de Montréal from 1928 to 1934. He was one of the founders of the Canadian Society of Graphic Artists in 1924 and he exhibited several prints every year with the Society until 1934.

Around this time Holgate’s popularity and fame accelerated; his pieces began to be featured in books and periodicals and the National Gallery of Canada sent his work to the Warsaw Exhibition in Poland in 1933 and then to the New York World’s Fair in 1939.

It was around this time that Holgate stopped doing relief printing altogether. He went off to war and when he returned he felt “out of touch” with the new Automatistes taking over in Montreal, he instead turned his focus to painting. 

In order to do so, he left Montreal to live in the Laurentians in 1946. Holgate is often referred to as the 8th member of the Group of Seven, although by the time he was asked to join the group, they were close to disbanding, so he never made the commitment. 

Edwin Holgate died in 1977, in Montreal Quebec, he was 84 years old and is remembered for both his paintings and engravings equally.


Selected Collections
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, QB
McGill University, Montreal, QB
McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, ON
The Feckless Collection, Vancouver, BC