A Guide to David Blackwood’s Best Prints

By Clayton Kenyon and Mark Skeffington

David Blackwood is one of Canada’s most celebrated and beloved artists, known for his stunning etchings of Newfoundland life.

The master printmaker’s ability to tell human stories in an image, combined with his incredible technical skills, gives him a unique place in Canadian art. He is also arguably Newfoundland’s most important artist ever, having told the province’s story in art so well. (Read his biography here)

David Blackwood is a prolific artist, producing hundreds of etchings and prints over four decades, as well as a smaller number of original watercolours and paintings.

This is a guide to David Blackwood’s most sought-after etchings for Canadian fine art collectors, based on our ranking of importance.

Many of the most desirable David Blackwood etchings feature whales. The beautifully-rendered scenes remind us that human life is fragile and that these mighty mammals rule the sea, not man. Yet, we can also see that it is possible for man and whales to share the sea.

Photos of David Blackwood etchings called Fire Down the Labrador and The Great Peace of Brian and Martin Winsor

David Blackwood prints Fire Down the Labrador (left) and The Great Peace of Brian and Martin Winsor

1. Fire Down on the Labrador (1980, etching and aquatint, 30 X 20 inches, Edition of 50).

This etching is acknowledged as David Blackwood’s printmaking masterpiece. A whale floats beneath the waterline as, above the surface, men in a dory flee a ship engulfed in red flames. Iceberg skyscrapers tower in the background, while smaller shards of sea ice suggest what caused the tragedy. Fire Down on the Labrador was given preeminent attention in David Blackwood’s Black Ice exhibit, which was shown in Toronto (2011), St. John’s (2012) and Victoria (2013). A detail from the print was also the cover photo for Black Ice, David Blackwood Prints of Newfoundland. The exhibit, and the book, traced the printmaker’s creative process from the initial 1979 concept drawing to experimental inkings and six artist proofs. This showed how David Blackwood would subtly adjust colouring as he hand-pulled each copy.

Scarcity: About one Fire Down the Labrador etching comes on the Canadian art market every 12-18 months. It holds the art auction record for a David Blackwood print and is considered to be investment-quality art that has appreciated in value over the years.

2. The Great Peace of Brian and Martin Winsor (1982, etching and aquatint, 32 X 30 inches, Edition of 50).

This etching also depicts a whale, this one floating above two men who lie in repose – as if they are sleeping peacefully – at the bottom of the sea. The men were likely seabird hunters, judging by the rifles that lie beside them. Their dory sits empty on the ocean surface, sea ice and an iceberg nearby. When attending the Art Gallery of Ontario  Black Ice book signing, David Blackwood, explained that Brian and Martin Winsor’s boat struck sea ice, and the brothers fell out and all that was found was an empty dory. In contrast to the bleak scene, a bird flies serenely towards a sun over a nearby outport community.

Scarcity: FineArtCollector has sold two copies of this etching (in 2016). About one Great Peace etching comes on the market every 18-24 months. We believe this work is undervalued compared to Fire Down the Labrador.

Photo of David Blackwood print called Hauling Job Sturges House

David Blackwood’s Hauling Job Sturges House

3. Hauling Job Sturge’s House (1979, etching and aquatint, 12.5 X 31 inches, Edition 50)

This striking image depicts a scene that wasn’t uncommon in rural Newfoundland: moving house by physically moving the house. In this case, people waited until the ice froze in a cove to drag a house to a new location. About 40 men heave on a rope as a family watches the progress. David Blackwood doesn’t focus on the people, keeping their shapes simple and black, but on the scene. A rising sun lights the scene, while in the foreground an anchor is used to help ensure the house doesn’t slide backwards. The geometry and perspective in the etching are a testament to Blackwood’s master ability to convey emotion in his art. This image was used on the cover of acclaimed novel, The Shipping News, by E. Annie Proulx. Another silkscreen, called Uncle Eli Glover Moving, shows a house being moved across water, pulled by a large engine-powered dory.

Scarcity: FineArtCollector has sold one copy of this etching (an Artist Proof, in 2016). It rarely comes on the open art market, with 2012 being the last recorded art auction sale of this work.

Photos of David Blackwood prints called Wreck of the Nickerson and Loss of the Flora S. Nickerson

David Blackwood prints Wreck of the Nickerson (left) and Loss of the Flora S. Nickerson

4. Loss of Flora S. Nickerson (1993, etching and aquatint, 32 X 20 inches, Edition of 75), Wreck of the Nickerson (1993, etching and aquatint, 32 X 20 inches, Edition of 50)

These essentially mirror image etchings carry on the whale theme. In this case a whale and its calf swims beneath the ocean surface as a dory carries five men away from the Flora S. Nickerson ship, which may have run into a storm. One man keeps a close watch over the front of the dory as it approaches the tale of the mother whale. There are differences between the two etchings. In Loss, for example, you can see a small boy being comforted in the dory. The position of the baby whales is also different between the two prints.

Scarcity: Like other of David Blackwood’s compelling whale etchings, Loss of Flora S. Nickerson and Wreck of the Nickerson etchings rarely come to market. Despite the difference in edition size, these etchings have sold for a similar price.

5. Fire in Indian Bay (1979, etching and aquatint, 20 X 31 inches, Edition of 50)

Photo of David Blackwood etching called Fire in Indian Bay

David Blackwood’s Fire in Indian Bay.

This is one of David Blackwood’s most vibrantly coloured etchings, where he departs from his usual blues to orange-red. In this scene, people, from young to old, stand huddled in dozens of boats floating on the ocean surface. Their faces are turned to watch flames burning in a distant outport, seen on the horizon. The orange-red flames colour the entire night sky. This is one of David Blackwood’s prints that must be seen in person to fully appreciate the dynamic colours.

Scarcity: This etching also rarely comes to market, though FineArtCollector has sold two, including an Artist Proof.

– FineArtCollector.ca
Copyrighted material. Cannot be used without written permission.