LOT 016

1941 - 2022

Home from Bragg's Island
oil tempera on canvas
signed and dated 2008 and on verso signed, titled and dated 2007 - 2008
35 x 48 in, 88.9 x 121.9 cm

Estimate: $70,000 - $90,000 CAD

Preview at:

Private Collection, Toronto

As with much of David Blackwood’s work, Home from Bragg’s Island speaks intimately to the lives and stories of Bonavista Bay, in Newfoundland, and his own place within them. The figures returning by boat to Wesleyville at night are the artist and his family, with Blackwood depicting himself as a child at the bow. They are arriving home from a weekend visit with Blackwood’s grandparents on Bragg’s Island. Blackwood depicted this nocturne primarily in red, blue and shades of grey, and the contrasts in the palette heighten the intensity of the image. The moon appears full, its light strong, and the sea is calm. The angular shafts of moonlight create a beatific presence, guiding the family home. There is a sense of safety and security, if perhaps only temporary.

The striking imagery in this painting has had many permutations in Blackwood’s body of work. A very similar composition exists as an etching titled For David Judah: Home from Bragg’s Island, 2005. This scene is also the central element of the epic canvas Home from Bragg’s Island, 2009, at 72 x 105 inches the largest painting yet executed by the artist. Donated by the Bank of Montreal to the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, it hangs in the permanent collection of The Rooms in St. John’s. The work was loaned in 2013 to the Winnipeg Art Gallery for its centennial exhibition 100 Masters: Only in Canada, where it hung alongside masterpieces by Francis Bacon, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Rembrandt van Rijn, Vincent van Gogh, Andy Warhol and Gerhard Richter, as well as works by other Canadian masters such as James Wilson Morrice, Tom Thomson, Alex Colville and Mary Pratt.

So, the subject of Home from Bragg’s Island is an image that has been worked and reworked by the artist, with its individual elements also woven through his art. The bold red door in the foreground, for example, has been a central motif in Blackwood’s artwork for nearly 40 years. It is the door to the shed of Ephraim Kelloway, the artist’s childhood neighbour. Amongst Wesleyville’s brightly painted homes, “Uncle Eph’s” home was grey, unpainted clapboard, save for the door of his shed. Over the years, Kelloway painted and repainted it, and he nailed horseshoes, model ships and tin lettering to it. The door fascinated Blackwood as a child, and in his art he has depicted it numerous times in paint and print.

The island in the distance has also been detailed many times by the artist. It is not the titular Bragg’s Island, but Bennett’s High Island. Marking the entrance to Wesleyville Harbour, the lighthouse on its shore stands on the spot where Captain James Cook placed a marker when charting the coast of Newfoundland in the 1760s. Bragg’s Island itself lies approximately 17 miles to the southwest by boat, and it is another central subject for Blackwood. An early east coast settlement chosen for its proximity to the cod fisheries, Bragg’s Island was also home to Blackwood’s maternal grandparents. At its height, it was home to a population of 600 who erected both a church and a school. Cod fishers themselves, Blackwood’s grandparents were also merchants who supplied the local community. Unpredictable weather meant the journey to the mainland could be dangerous, and in the winter the island was so isolated that a whole season’s worth of goods was purchased in advance, with the hopes that they would last until spring. Life could be treacherous, and community was paramount.

The artist and his family returning home safely from a place where life could be so perilous speaks to an underlying theme in all of Blackwood’s artwork, allowing the stories told to transcend the regional and elevating them to the universal. Throughout his work, directly or indirectly, there exists a sense of tragedy, sometimes barely restrained. In remembered moments such as this one, times were, for that moment, safe. They were not so in the past, however, and might not be so in the future. From this, poignancy arises. This delicate balance means we must navigate our lives with care and concern, and tend to one another with sympathy. Times of momentary and fragile safety from danger amplify the beauty of our lives and connections, making our bonds that much more deeply felt, and making our stories that much more important to remember.

Estimate: $70,000 - $90,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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