AAM BHG CGP CSGA G7 RCA
1892 - 1977
Circus Tent, Concarneau
oil on canvas, 1921
signed and on verso titled on the gallery and exhibition labels
21 3/8 x 25 3/4 in 54.3 x 65.4 cm
Galerie Walter Klinkhoff Inc., Montreal
Private Collection, Montreal
Dennis Reid, Edwin H. Holgate, National Gallery of Canada, 1976, reproduced page 34
Rosalind Pepall and Brian Foss, Edwin Holgate, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 2005, reproduced page 106 and listed page 171
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Edwin Holgate, May 26 - October 2, 2005, traveling in 2005 - 2007 to the Glenbow Museum, Calgary; McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; and the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton, catalogue #21
Edwin Holgate spent the summer of 1921 at Concarneau in Brittany, sharing a studio with Robert Pilot. In fact, he was following the example of James Wilson Morrice, who spent many summers in Concarneau (1905, 1906, 1909 and 1918). Another of Holgate’s paintings from the same period, Fête des filets bleus, Concarneau, 1921, now at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, was exhibited under the title Nuit de la Fête at the Salon d’automne at the Grand Palais in Paris (November 1 to December 20, 1921).
Concarneau, like Pont-Aven in a preceding generation, was a tourist attraction for both painters and regular travelers. Situated in the Finistère district of Brittany in northwestern France, the town has two distinct areas: the modern town on the mainland and the medieval Ville Close, a walled town on a long island in the centre of the harbour. Historically, the old town was mainly devoted to shipbuilding. But at the time of Holgate’s sojourn in Concarneau, Ville Close was, as now, mainly a tourist area. A visiting circus added one more attraction to the site.
This painting, Circus Tent, Concarneau, shows the circus tent in the background and women displaying food or other items to attract the public going in and out of the circus area. We see many women in their traditional costumes - note especially the headdresses of the women, which are distinctive to the area. Holgate had a good opportunity to make his own observations, since he was in Concarneau in August when the town held the annual Fête des filets bleus (Festival of the Blue Nets). The festival, named after the traditional blue nets of Concarneau’s fishing fleet, is a celebration of Breton and pan-Celtic culture. Such festivals can occur throughout Brittany, but the Filets bleus is one of the oldest and largest, attracting in excess of a thousand participants in traditional dress, with many times that number of observers.
The contrast in this painting between the beige of the circus tent and the colourful activities of the Breton women, as well as the red roof of the small structure on the right, is perfectly mastered by Holgate. The strong composition, in which the black of the women’s dresses and the deep blue of their shadows dominate the foreground, attracts attention to the circus tent and the blue sky. A tree closes the composition on the left, while the middle ground is occupied by a grey cart on the left and the red structure on the right.
The following summer, Holgate was back in Montreal and rented one of the studios in Alfred Laliberté's complex, 67 Sainte-Famille Street. Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté, Maurice Cullen and Robert Pilot also had studios in this building. From then on, Holgate produced his well-known paintings inspired by the Charlevoix region. But it is important to understand that it was in France that Holgate developed his own style both in landscape painting, as in our painting, and in figure painting (for instance Suzy, 1921, at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa). Contrary to the work of Paul-Émile Borduas, Alfred Pellan or Marian Scott, Holgate was not a painter of many styles. The moment he had found his own language, he kept it for the rest of his life. That is why Circus Tent, Concarneau is not only one of his early masterpieces, but a major example of his mature style.
We thank the late François-Marc Gagnon (1935 - 2019), formerly of the Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute of Studies in Canadian Art, Concordia University, for contributing the above essay in 2013.
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