Emily Carr

Cedar, 1942
oil on canvas
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust
Photo: Trevor Mills, Vancouver Art Gallery

Emily Carr Website
Experience the most extensive online presence ever presented on a Canadian artist at the Vancouver Art Gallery's new Emily Carr Website.

Emily Carr, born in Victoria , British Columbia , is one of Canada 's most renowned artists, significant as a landscape painter and a modernist. The most important BC artist of her generation, she is best known for her attention to the totemic carvings of the First Nations people of British Columbia and the rain forests of Vancouver Island.

Carr's work was first brought to the wider Canadian art public when it was represented in the 1927 exhibition Canadian West Coast Art, Native and Modern organized by the National Gallery of Canada. Through this exhibition she was introduced to the work of the Group of Seven and formed an important friendship with Lawren Harris who influenced her work significantly.

Many works from the Emily Carr Trust Collection are included in the national exhibition tour of Emily Carr: New Perspectives on a Canadian Icon . The exhibition is organized and circulated by the Vancouver Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Canada. The Carr Trust Collection, which was selected by her friend and artistic trustee, Lawren Harris, has been supplemented by purchases and gifts and the Gallery's collection now includes more than 200 objects covering the period c. 1890 to 1942. Particularly rich in work from the 1930s and early 1940s, and offering the complete range of her artistic production, the Gallery's colletion is unrivaled in quality. Some highlights of the collection are Zunoqua of the Cat Village , 1931, Big Raven , 1931, and Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky , 1935.

About Emily Carr

Big Raven, 1931
oil on canvas
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust
Photo: Trevor Mills, Vancouver Art Gallery
Born in Victoria in 1871, Carr began her training as an artist with a period of study at the California School of Design in San Francisco . Little of her work survives from this period, but she seems to have received basic instruction in oil painting and watercolour and was able, upon her return to Victoria in 1893, to make a living as an art teacher.

In the late 1890s she travelled to England to receive further training in London at the Westminster School of Art, and later at private schools in Cornwall . Carr was probably introduced to outdoor sketching at this time. She did not, however, have a successful sojourn in England , and her time there was marked by a prolonged illness. She returned to Victoria in 1904. In 1906 she moved to Vancouver , where she taught art classes and established herself in the small artistic community of Vancouver.

Zunoqua of the Cat Village, 1931
oil on canvas
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust
Photo: Trevor Mills, Vancouver Art Gallery
In 1907 Carr travelled to Alaska with her sister, and this trip, which exposed her to the poles of the northern First Nations, seems to have changed the focus of her art. While she had earlier depicted First Nations people on Vancouver Island and in Vancouver , her attention was captured by the totemic carvings that she saw on this trip. Carr felt, however, that she was ill-equipped to draw or paint these poles, and she decided to seek further training in France . Carr lived in France during 1910-11, a period of tremendous artistic ferment. Yet she did not engage with the most contemporary of artists ?Picasso and Matisse ?but received training from British and New Zealand expatriates, probably because of her inability to speak French and her dislike of large cities. The classes she attended outside Paris and in Brittany nevertheless encouraged her to gain a new vocabulary of form and colour and strengthened her interest in working outdoors.

Following her return to Canada , in the summer of 1912, she went north to visit First Nations villages on the Skeena River and in the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii). She produced an important body of work in the field, and in the fall of the year she produced the first of her major canvases of First Nations subject matter. In these works, highly influenced by her French training, she used bright, fauvist colours and, often, broken brushwork. Ironically, the artistic merit of these works may have played a role in their failure as documentary art.

Carr showed these works in Vancouver in early 1913, hoping that the government of the province would purchase them. When the project failed, she returned to Victoria and turned her attention to other ways of making a living. Between 1913 and 1927, Carr ran a boarding house, raised sheepdogs, made pottery and gave art lessons. She produced very little painting.

The inclusion of her work in a national exhibition in 1927, and her introduction to other artists who recognized the quality of her work, particularly the Group of Seven, encouraged Carr to return to painting as her major occupation. In the summer of 1928 she made another trip north to visit First Nations villages. The work she produced between 1928 and her death is the cornerstone of her reputation. The images of First Nations subjects created between late 1920s and early 1930s were stronger and more forceful paintings than her earlier works. They reflect the influence of Lawren Harris and other modernists, and no longer have documentation as a primary goal. The fact that Carr achieved this when she was in her late fifties, in an artistic climate that was often hostile, makes her accomplishments even more extraordinary.

In the 1930s she began devoting most of her attention to landscape, particularly the forest, as subject matter. The use of a new medium ?oil on paper ?allowed her greater freedom to work outdoors. These paintings are among her most important contributions to Canadian art. They express her profound identification with the landscape of the province and her belief that nature was a tangible expression of God.

By the late 1930s, having suffered a series of heart attacks, Carr found it harder to travel. She began to focus more of her energy on writing and produced an unusual and important series of books, including Klee Wyck , a book of stories based on her experiences in First Nations villages, which won the Governor General's Award for Literature in 1941. She died in 1945, in her native Victoria , at the age of 74, recognized as an artist and writer of major importance.