LOT 201

1896 - 1971

Skeena River, British Columbia
oil on board
signed and on verso inscribed with the Kenneth G. Heffel Fine Art Inc. inventory #D383
9 x 12 in, 22.9 x 30.5 cm

Estimate: $20,000 - $30,000 CAD

Sold for: $46,250

Preview at:

Galerie Bernard Desroches, Montreal
Kenneth G. Heffel Fine Art Inc., October 2, 1981
Private Collection
Fine Canadian Art, Heffel Fine Art Auction House, November 7, 1996, lot 209
Private Collection, British Columbia
A.K. Prakash and Associates Inc., Toronto
The Collection of Torben V. Kristiansen, Vancouver

Anne Douglas Savage was trained at the Art Association of Montreal, and later at the Minneapolis School of Art. In 1921, she became a member of Montreal’s Beaver Hall Group. A teacher in Montreal, Savage was asked by Marius Barbeau to travel to the Skeena River in 1927 with the sculptor Florence Wyle. This was the second trip organized by Barbeau, who was working in the Skeena Valley as an ethnologist and through government support to promote tourism. Most of the artists Barbeau asked to travel to the Skeena (they included W. Langdon Kihn from 1922 to 1924; A.Y. Jackson and Edwin Holgate in 1926; and Pegi Nicol MacLeod and George Pepper in 1928) were included in the major Exhibition of Canadian West Coast Art: Native and Modern held at the National Gallery of Canada in 1927.

Interestingly, Savage did not have a great deal of respect for Barbeau, describing him, in a 1967 interview, as a “most disrespectful” and “silly man.” In addition, she mentioned her concern for the plans for the restoration of totem poles in the area and First Nations opposition to these plans.[1] Despite these issues, the trip to the Skeena Valley was a revelatory one for Savage. She described her journey as “extraordinary,” and while there she produced an important body of both oil sketches and numerous drawings.[2]

It seems likely that this painting was produced when Savage was in British Columbia rather than back in Montreal. The two artists, Savage and Wyle, traveled by train, and the viewpoint suggests that it might have been captured from beside the railway track. Certainly the image is strikingly elevated, overlooking the Skeena River and the landscape and peaks beyond. Savage has been careful to include a clear beach beside the river and, in the mid-range, a thickly wooded hillside greets the viewer. In the distance we get a glimpse of the snow-capped Skeena Mountains on the right and two darker, more immediate and overlapping mountain forms on the left.

What is remarkable about the image is Savage’s manipulation of the space. Our entry into the composition is guided by the mountainous formation on the right and a single small tree on the left. The eye travels through the gap between these two elements, and we journey across the waters of the Skeena River to the densely forested hillside beyond. This remote landscape was an important home for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, and Savage suggests this in the depiction of a small cabin perched midway down the rocky slope on the right side of the image.

One of the most visually satisfying things about this painting is Savage’s ability to depict the rich variety of the forest on the hillside in the middle ground without clearly defining any of the trees, except the small pine in the left foreground. Her use of broadly defined forms, various colours of green, and the vibrant orange of the panel itself enables her to render the hillside with startling conviction. There is no suggestion of hesitation in Savage’s handling of the scene, which is decisive and compelling.

Although this painting is small in scale, Savage has managed to vividly and convincingly suggest the expansive majesty of the Skeena landscape.

1. Anne Savage, interview by Arthur Calvin, Anne Savage fonds, Concordia University Archives, Montreal.

2. Ibid. Savage's Skeena sketchbooks are held in both the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, and the Leonard and Bina Ellen Gallery at Concordia University, Montreal.

For the biography on Torben V. Kristiansen in PDF format, please click here.

Estimate: $20,000 - $30,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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