Walter J. Phillips

Mountain Torrent, 1926

colour woodcut on paper, 46/100

12 × 8.7 in

 9 x


 22.098 x



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About the work

Phillips’ love for the rugged Rocky Mountains is palpable in this bright, bold print, and the sense of motion is immediate. The foaming rush of a well-fed waterfall in the lower left of the field threatens to sweep away the viewer with its tangible vigour but there is so much more for the eye to appreciate before giving in to this overpowering force. The foreground’s semi-abstract rocks show off their mineral deposits and reflect the sun’s shadows in a vibrant array of blues, greens, and reds. Fighting against the water’s flow as it disappears over the nearest rise, cool blue mountains emerge from the clouded sky, towering beyond the frame, their crags and faces highlighted in rocky grey.

Medium Prints
Signature Signed
Frame Framed
Condition Good
Seller Private
Location Saskatoon, Canada
Provenance Private Collection, Saskatchewan

Walter J. Phillips


Walter Joseph Phillips was born at Barton-on-Humber, in Lincolnshire, England, in 1884. After discovering a talent for drawing, a young Phillips attended evening classes at the Municipal School of Art and Science. He continued to receive art education from the Municipal School of Art in Birmingham and the Municipal School of Art and Science in Great Yarmouth. In 1902, Phillips relocated to South Africa.

After failing to earn enough in South Africa to train as an artist in Paris, Phillips eventually had to return to England, where he worked as a commercial artist in Manchester, and later moved to London. He met Ernest S. Carlos and, in 1908, obtained the position of Art Master at the Bishop’s School in Salisbury. He and Carlos continued to sketch the southern English countryside at every opportunity, and his growing expertise was soon rewarded when one of his works was shown at the Royal Academy in 1912. Phillips held two exhibitions in Salisbury in 1911 and 1912. He and his wife then relocated to Canada, living first in Toronto, then Vancouver, and finally Winnipeg, Manitoba.

In Winnipeg, Phillips continued his work as a watercolour painter. He soon discovered new subject matter in the suburbs of Winnipeg, and the family spent its first summer at Lake of the Woods on the Manitoba-Ontario border in 1914. He met other artists then working in Winnipeg, such as Cyril Barraud, a fellow Englishman who had come to Winnipeg a year earlier. Phillips and Barraud held a joint exhibition in Winnipeg in October of 1914.

In 1915, Phillips acquired etching tools from Barraud. He completed about thirty etchings within two years, and the National Gallery of Canada purchased one of his works. By 1917, Phillips was experimenting with a new print-making medium, that of the colour woodcut. With the few references available to him in Winnipeg, Phillips nevertheless was able to produce colour woodcuts that increased in sophistication as his experience with the medium increased.

Phillips continued to live in Winnipeg and to teach. The summers were often spent at a rented cottage at Lake of the Woods, and Phillips continued to work in watercolour and to develop his technique with the colour woodcut. His prints began to be noticed and he corresponded with artists in England who also worked in the medium. Increasingly, he began to feel isolated in Winnipeg and thought that a return to England might boost his growing market and afford a living less dependent on income derived from activities not related to his work as an artist.

Back in England, Phillips met artistic colleagues with whom he had corresponded, and was introduced to others. These meetings allowed him to perfect his colour printing technique. Phillips lived near his parents’ home in the Cotswolds, where he continued to work at his watercolours and prints. Ultimately, however, the family decided to return to Canada, and arrived again in Winnipeg in 1925.

Determined to work full-time as an artist, Phillips increased production and the promotion of his work led to good sales, and he also published a book in 1926 on The Technique of the Color Woodcut. Also, in 1926, Phillips began to write a weekly column on Art and Artists for the Winnipeg Tribune. This was the year that Phillips first visited the Rocky Mountains with a couple of fellow artists from Winnipeg.

Phillips’ first sketching trip to the Rocky Mountains was a watershed in his work as an artist. Over the next 15 years or so, he would return to the Rockies as often as he could, and mountain subjects appeared frequently in his work. In 1927, Phillips made his first trip to the West Coast of British Columbia, visiting Alert Bay and Village Island. That year, he also published his first portfolio of colour woodcuts, which was soon followed by his second portfolio in 1928.

Phillips continued to find much inspiration in the Canadian prairie landscape, and much of his work between 1930 and 1940 was derived from his wanderings around Manitoba. He also began to produce a number of wood engravings in addition to his continuing work with colour woodcuts.

In 1940, Phillips was invited to teach at the Banff Summer School. The following year, he was invited to teach at the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art in Calgary. He and his wife relocated to Calgary, and this new proximity to the mountains allowed him to concentrate on this subject matter. After WWII, Phillips work as a watercolourist reached new heights.



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