"However, as we come to the fourth and last portrait to be discussed, let us relinquish the notion of a Canadian portraiture. Portraits are universal statements, they speak to all mankind – we are back with that basic denotative legibility – and it would be wrong to confine them to a narrow, nationalistic significance. Ludovine, to be seen in the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, was painted in 1930 in a small cod-fishing village called Natashquan on the north bank of the St Lawrence. (Holgate was on his way to the Labrador coast.) The young woman wears black for she is in mourning – her mother had just died – and, as the eldest child, she had been left to care for a numerous family of siblings. Even if we did not know these details, the portrait could not fail to have an effect on us. Holgate places Ludovine uncompromisingly in the middle of the canvas, again square on. Her head is, however, held slightly to one side: the neckline of her dress is off-set. The effect of this is to hint at her vulnerability in a time of grief, and render the
sense of resolution and responsibility all the more poignant and admirable. Her dark eyes look directly into ours, unfalteringly, and yet also seem to be contemplating an unknowable future. Her calm and poise, together with a slight tension, are also
conveyed by her clasped hands. In formal terms, her head to one side, together with crenellated middle of the chair-back (opposed to the smooth curve on the other side) prevent too rigid a symmetry. A harsh light casts a dark shadow which accentuates the somber mood. However, the expanse of light blue counters this to a certain extent (even though it is a cool colour) and perhaps suggests that the promise of youth, despite her grievous loss, is not altogether blighted. This is a hauntingly beautiful portrait. Like Plamondon’s portrait of Soeur Saint-Alphonse, it speaks to us about Canadian/Quebec women. Beyond that, it speaks to us about all women. Beyond that, it shares with us thoughts about the universal spirit, about human loss, grief, vulnerability, and quiet courage."
Christopher Rolfe is University Fellow and Honorary Director of the Centre for Quebec Studies, University of Leicester, UK, and a former President of the British Association for Canadian Studies and of the International Council for Canadian Studies.
Extracted from an online essay: A Canadian Portraiture, Some Thoughts of Edwin Holgate. Please click here.