1916 - 2017
Virginia of the Cheakamus Valley
oil on canvas on board
signed, titled on a label and dated June 1940 and on verso titled "Virginia Williams a Squamish Indian in Oils" on the artist's label and "Virginia of the Cheakamus Valley" on a label and inscribed "Original done from life in the Cheakamus Valley near Garibaldi. Virginia Williams (Squamish Indian), Varnished Oct. 1967" and "Unity-922-6548"
12 x 10 in, 30.5 x 25.4 cm
Estimate: $2,000 - $3,000 CAD
Sold for: $3,125
Collection of Unity Bainbridge
By descent to the collection of Deborah and Richard Ryan, West Vancouver
Vancouver Art Gallery, Ninth Annual British Columbia Artists' Exhibition, September 20 - October 13, 1940, catalogue #6
Vancouver Art Gallery, Rapture, Rhythm and the Tree of Life: Emily Carr and Her Female Contemporaries, December 7, 2019 - January 22, 2021
Born in Victoria in 1916, Unity Bainbridge was one of the early graduates of the Vancouver School of Art, class of 1936. She was classmates with E.J. Hughes, and her instructors included Fred Varley, Jock Macdonald and Charles Scott from whom she learned her technique of painting directly from life, favouring an unfiltered direct relationship with her subject. Determined to be an artist, she would take the bus from Whytecliffe in West Vancouver to Ambleside and then the ferry to Downtown Vancouver every morning for class.
In the late 1930s and early 1940s Bainbridge travelled extensively around British Columbia and Canada with little money and her backpack of art supplies, staying in rooming houses while painting the people and its landscapes along the way. Gregarious and willful, she would get to know her subjects personally, and in particular maintained lifelong connections in the traditional territories of the S?wx_wú7mesh (Squamish) and Líl?wat peoples. While Bainbridge shared Emily Carr's interest in Indigenous cultures, rather than paint villages or totems, she focused on portraiture. Throughout her lifetime, she fostered a close bond with the S?wx_wú7mesh people, whose land encompasses the Cheakamus Valley. A testament to this connection was during the inauguration of her exhibition at the Ferry Building in West Vancouver in 2017, where thirty members of the S?wx_wú7mesh nation paid tribute to her with songs and drumming.
Bainbridge had little interest in playing “the art game” as she called it, repeatedly turning down gallery representation which she felt would hinder her freedom of artistic expression. Invited to speak at the 75th anniversary celebration of Emily Carr University, Bainbridge recounted her formative lessons at the school “Art is life and life is art… We were taught to live, not to earn a living. To put beauty and excellence first before money and still survive”. Despite her free spirited convictions her art was exhibited widely in galleries from the early thirties to the present day including a solo show at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 1943. Her work is held in the permanent collections of Buckingham Palace, Canada House, Imperial War Museum, the Diefenbaker Museum, and the Vancouver Art Gallery. Her influence was recognized when in 1993 she received the Province’s highest honour, the Order of British Columbia. This painting was recently shown at the Vancouver Art Gallery exhibition Rapture, Rhythm and the Tree of Life: Emily Carr and her Female Contemporaries (2019-2021).
On verso there is a small sketch of a house, dated June 1940, about which Unity wrote in 1990: "On the back of this rough sketch is part of a letter I wrote to Irwin Thorn, asking if I could use his cabin to stay up in the Cheakamus Valley. This is a house I drew on the way… Garibaldi mountain is in the distance. It was wild and I found Virginia to paint!"
The painting is in the original frame, handmade by Bainbridge for aesthetic purposes and because her limited finances didn’t allow her to purchase frames.
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