EDWIN HOLGATE at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection (10365 Islington), to September 17. 905- 893-1121. $15, stu $12. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
The McMichael, the "spiritual home of the Group of Seven," pays tribute to a latecomer, the Montreal-based Edwin Holgate .
Invited to join the Group in 1930, Holgate was already a respected artist who had exhibited with them as an invited guest. This exhaustive retrospective, which comes to the McMichael from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, covers a broad range of work from his entire career.
Holgate fits smoothly into the stylistic aims of the Group, even though they were to break up shortly after his inclusion. He was passionate about portraying the Canadian wilderness, and landscape remained his main focus. As a student he trained in Paris, and his Post-Impressionist and Fauvist influences especially Cézanne are clear.
So one wonders why Holgate never pushed further or more boldly in his work, especially since he was in the middle of the explosion of painterly experimentation that was Paris from the turn of the century until the 40s. There is a datedness about Holgate's work.
The tension between his desire to experiment and to remain within the confines of "academy" painting surfaces as visual tightness. His famous groupings of nudes with Canadian landscapes, for instance, are beautifully rendered yet oddly lacking in spontaneity. They feel more like programmatic attempts than explorations into landscape and human form.
Holgate works best when he leaves his larger ambitions behind. His small oils of ordinary interiors are intense and riveting, conveying an uncommon stillness and drama. His engravings are also miracles of visual economy.
Then there are the portraits. At his best, especially in his famous portrait of Ludivine, a girl teetering warily on the verge of womanhood, Holgate shows himself an adept psychologist.
Works like this, along with the McMichael's permanent collection, make a summer pilgrimage to Kleinberg worthwhile.