From the Collection: Walter J. Phillips, “Self Portrait” (1922)

by Shelby Smith

A muff made from an albatross in the late 1800s. From the collection of the The Muse, Lake of the Woods Museum.

Walter J. Phillips (1884-1963). Self Portrait, 1922. Woodcut print. 8.8 x 5.9 cm. #74 of unknown edition. Collection of the Douglas Family Art Centre.

 

It was on this day (October 25th) in 1884 that Walter Joseph Phillips was born in Barton-on-Humber, Lincolnshire, England. In 1913, Phillips left England and immigrated with his young family to Winnipeg, Manitoba.  Phillips is one of Canada’s most celebrated artists, who created hundreds of watercolours, etchings, engravings, and colour woodblock prints in his lifetime.  Phillips’ body of work consisted mainly of landscapes, though he would occasionally include figures or animals in his scenes.  Self-portraits, like the one below, were much more uncommon for Phillips.

This self-portrait was initially used on the front of an invitation to an exhibition of paintings and prints by Walter J. Phillips, held at the Parish Hall of St. Luke’s Church, which opened on December 2, 1922.  The print was also re-issued at a later date.

 

The version of the print that we have in our collection comes from the portfolio Ten Wood Cuts.  It was published during July, 1931 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  The self-portrait is affixed on the reverse side of the table of contents.  Here you can see just how small in scale this self-portrait was, and the amount of precision it would take to create such a small yet accurate depiction of oneself!

The portfolio Ten Wood Cuts featured seven coloured wood cut prints and three in black and white.  Four of the wood cuts from this portfolio are also part of the Douglas Family Art Centre collection:

Walter J. Phillips (1884-1963). Lake of the Woods, 1931
. Colour wood cut print. Edition of 200. 16.4 x 23.9 cm. Collection of the Douglas Family Art Centre.

W.J. Phillips (1884-1963) SUMMER NIGHT, 1931 Edition of 200 Woodblock Print 17.7 x 24.1 cm or 7" x 9 7/16"
 Framed size: 15" x 17 7/16"

Walter J. Phillips (1884-1963). Summer Night, 1931. Colour wood cut print. Edition of 200. 17.7 x 24.1 cm. Collection of the Douglas Family Art Centre.

Walter J. Phillips (1884-1963). The Diving Board, 1930. Colour wood cut print. Edition unknown. 22 x 14.2 cm. Collection of the Douglas Family Art Centre.

Black and white engraving. Walter J. Phillips (1884-1963). Rushing River, lake of the Woods, 1931. Wood engraving. Edition of 200. 13.9 x 17.1 cm.

Walter J. Phillips (1884-1963). Rushing River, Lake of the Woods, 1931. Wood engraving. Edition of 200. 13.9 x 17.1 cm. Collection of the Douglas Family Art Centre.

 

While researching this piece, I came across an interesting and unexplained variation: it seems that the seventh image in Ten Wood Cuts indicated on our list differs from what has been recorded by other sources (#1 and #2).  While the piece in our collection has The Diving Board (1930) listed at the seventh image, elsewhere online Fishing (1931) is the seventh image.  Perhaps Phillips changed his mind on one of the works in the portfolio after printing a few copies and decided not to waste those copies, or perhaps he printed different versions of the line-up for different audiences.  For now, we can only speculate as to the reason behind this discrepancy.

Did you know?

Walter J. Phillips visited Lake of the Woods in the summers of the 1910s -1920s. This distinctive landscape would serve as inspiration until 1940.

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