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LOT 101

Walter Joseph (W.J.) Phillips
1884 - 1963

Summer Idyll
colour woodcut on paper, 1926
signed, titled and editioned 41/100
17 7/8 x 12 1/4 in 45.4 x 31.1 cm

Estimate: $20,000 - $30,000

Sold for: $25,000

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

Private Collection, Manitoba

Walter J. Phillips, The Technique of the Colour Wood-cut, 1926, page 39
Carlyle Allison, “W.J. Phillips: Artist and Teacher,” The Beaver, Magazine of the North, Winter 1969, the 1926 watercolour study reproduced page 10
Michael J. Gribbon, Walter J. Phillips: A Selection of His Works and Thoughts, National Gallery of Canada, 1978, page 38
Roger Boulet, The Tranquility and the Turbulence, 1981, page 71, reproduced page 71
Roger Boulet, Walter J. Phillips: The Complete Graphic Works, 1981, reproduced page 239
Maria Tippett and Douglas Cole, Phillips in Print: The Selected Writings of Walter J. Phillips on Canadian Nature and Art, 1982, pages xxvi and 30, reproduced on the dust jacket and page 31

Summer Idyll is Walter J. Phillips’s largest print in his body of work, and it is a stellar example of his absolute mastery of the woodcut medium. Complex in its layering, it required more than 12 different blocks to execute. Phillips was a perfectionist, and because he was dissatisfied with his first run of the subject, he destroyed it. In 1924, two years previous to the completion of this print, Phillips traveled to England to work with British printmaker William Giles, who was part of the colour print revival. There at the same time was Japanese printmaker Yoshijiro Urushibara, who possessed the accumulated knowledge of generations of his country’s printmakers, and Phillips learned much from him, calling him “the most important living technician” in the field of colour woodcut. From Urushibara, he learned to size paper correctly, which enabled him to print with softer and lighter-coloured papers. He began to use powdered colours applied with starch and stated he could then “produce at will that enchanting bloom of colour which belongs to the best prints from Nippon, and which had been my admiration and despair.”
Phillips and his wife Gladys had six children, and he often used them as models in his work. The family took summer holidays at Lake of the Woods and Muskoka, and the children posed for him in these idyllic outdoor locations. In the summer of 1925, the Phillips family was at Lake Muskoka for three months, staying in a roomy cottage on Big Island, surrounded by lush growth and with a clear view looking west, with the lake dotted with small islands. From here, they explored the surrounding area by boat, and Phillips was greatly pleased by the beauty of the landscape, stating “of all the places I have seen none seemed to possess so many agreeable features.” Fortunately, this location was not plagued by the usual clouds of mosquitoes in Manitoba, making it possible to pose his models outdoors. In Phillips’s words, “The weather was glorious, the air was soft, the sandy shores inciting…It was impossible to stay indoors. My young family disported itself in the water and along the shore all day long. Here was an exceptional opportunity. I made sketches of the children…They made splendid willing models.”
Back at home in Winnipeg, Phillips used his sketches and watercolours from the summer for prints such as Summer Idyll, which is considered one of his most accomplished woodcuts. In it, he depicted a blissful scene that captured the innocence of childhood in his daughter’s delight with the natural world. Her gesture of reaching with open arms towards the flitting butterflies is utterly charming. From the soft mosses and lichens on the rocks to the peeling bark of the tree trunks, Phillips’s use of detail is exquisite, as is his sense of design and balance in his composition. The artist utilized the natural grain of one of his woodblocks to depict the ripples of the water in the lake.
In recognition of Phillips’s prowess in the medium, Summer Idyll was awarded the bronze medal for best colour woodcut by the Graphic Arts Club in Toronto in 1926. Today, Phillips is revered as one of Canada’s most accomplished printmakers, both for his virtuoso technique and for his gracefully styled landscapes. The appreciation of beauty in nature was deep in Phillips’s psyche, and he wrote about it, as noted by Maria Tippett and Douglas Cole, “with some of the sophistication of a botanist, zoologist, and geologist, and with all the sensitivity of an aesthete.” In all aspects, Summer Idyll is an extraordinary example of what is best in Phillips’s body of work.

Estimate: $20,000 - $30,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

Although great care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information posted, errors and omissions may occur. All bids are subject to our Terms and Conditions of Business.