Emily Carr

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Emily Carr
EmilyCarr.png
Emily Carr
Born(1871-12-13)December 13, 1871
Victoria, British Columbia
DiedMarch 2, 1945(1945-03-02) (aged 73)
Victoria, British Columbia
NationalityCanadian
EducationSan Francisco Art Institute, Westminster School of Art, Académie Colarossi
Known forPainting, Writing
MovementModernism,
Post-Impressionism,
Expressionism
 
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Emily Carr
EmilyCarr.png
Emily Carr
Born(1871-12-13)December 13, 1871
Victoria, British Columbia
DiedMarch 2, 1945(1945-03-02) (aged 73)
Victoria, British Columbia
NationalityCanadian
EducationSan Francisco Art Institute, Westminster School of Art, Académie Colarossi
Known forPainting, Writing
MovementModernism,
Post-Impressionism,
Expressionism

Emily Carr (December 13, 1871 – March 2, 1945) was a Canadian artist and writer heavily inspired by the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast. One of the first painters in Canada to adopt a modernist and post-impressionist painting style,[1] Carr did not receive widespread recognition for her work until later in her life. As she matured, the subject matter of her painting shifted from aboriginal themes to landscapes, and in particular, forest scenes. As a writer, Carr was one of the earliest chroniclers of life in British Columbia. The Canadian Encyclopedia describes her as a "Canadian icon".[2]

Early life[edit]

Emily Carr, Autumn in France, 1911. National Gallery of Canada

Born in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1871, the year British Columbia joined Canada, Emily Carr was the second-youngest of nine [3] children born to English parents Richard and Emily (Saunders) Carr.[4] The Carr home was on Birdcage Walk, (now Government Street) in the James Bay district of Victoria, a short distance from the legislative buildings (nicknamed the 'Birdcages') and the town itself.

The Carr children were raised on English tradition. Richard Carr, born in England, believed it was sensible to live in Vancouver Island, a colony of Great Britain, where he could practice English customs and continue his British citizenship. The family home was made up in lavish English fashion, with high ceilings, ornate mouldings, and a parlour.[5] Carr was taught in the Presbyterian tradition, with Sunday morning prayers and evening Bible readings. Richard Carr called on one child per week to recite the sermon, and Emily consistently had trouble reciting it.[6]

Carr's father encouraged her artistic inclinations, but it was only in 1891, after her parents' deaths, that Carr pursued her art seriously. Carr attended the San Francisco Art Institute for two years (1890–1892) before returning to Victoria. In 1899 Carr travelled to London where she studied at the Westminster School of Art. She travelled also to a rural art colony in St Ives, Cornwall, returning to British Columbia in 1905. Carr took a teaching position in Vancouver at the 'Ladies Art Club' that she held for no longer than a month — she was unpopular amongst her students due to her rude behaviour of smoking and cursing at them in class, and the students began to boycott her courses.[7]

First works on indigenous people[edit]

In 1898 Carr made the first of several sketching and painting trips to aboriginal villages, visiting Ucluelet on the west coast of Vancouver Island, home to the Nuu-chah-nulth people, then commonly known to English speaking people as 'Nootka'. While on holiday in Alaska with her sister Alice in 1907, Carr again came into contact with indigenous peoples in remote villages and determined to use her art to document the sculptural and artistic legacy of the aboriginal people she encountered there.

Work in France[edit]

Determined to further her knowledge of the age's evolving artistic trends, in 1910 Carr returned to Europe to study at the Académie Colarossi in Paris. In Montparnasse with her sister Alice, Emily Carr met modernist painter Harry Gibb with a letter of introduction.[8] Upon viewing his work, she and her sister were shocked and intrigued[9] by his use of distortion and vibrant colour: "Mr Gibb's landscapes and still life delighted me — brilliant, luscious, clean. Against the distortion of his nudes I felt revolt."[8] Carr's study with Gibbs and his techniques shaped and influenced her style of painting, and she adopted a vibrant colour palette rather than continuing with the pastel colours of her earlier British training.[10]

Emily Carr, Breton church, oil on canvas, 1906.

Influenced by the post-impressionists and the fauvists she met and studied with in France, Carr returned to British Columbia and exhibited her French paintings.

Return to Canada[edit]

In the summer of 1912, Carr again traveled north, to the Queen Charlotte Islands and the Skeena River, where she documented the art of the Haida, Gitxsan and Tsimshian. At Cumshewa, a Haida village on Moresby Island,[11] Carr painted a carved raven that she later turned into her iconic painting Big Raven. Tanoo, another painting inspired by work gathered on this trip, depicts three totems before house fronts at the village of the same name. On her return to the south, Carr organized an exhibit of some of this work, and delivered a detailed lecture about the aboriginal villages that she had visited which ended with her mission statement:

I glory in our wonderful west and I hope to leave behind me some of the relics of its first primitive greatness. These things should be to us Canadians what the ancient Briton's relics are to the English. Only a few more years and they will be gone forever into silent nothingness and I would gather my collection together before they are forever past.[12]

While there was some positive reaction to her work, even in the new 'French' style,[13] Carr perceived Vancouver's reaction to her work and new style was not positive enough to support her career, and she recounted as much in her book Growing Pains. Carr determined to give up teaching and work in Vancouver, and in 1913 she returned to Victoria where several of her sisters still lived.

During the next 15 years, Carr did little painting but ran a boarding house known as the 'House of All Sorts', which provided the namesake and source material for her later book. Her circumstances straitened and her life in Victoria circumscribed, Carr's few paintings of this period drew their inspiration from local scenes: the cliffs at Dallas Road, the trees in Beacon Hill Park. Her own assessment of the period was that she had ceased to paint, which was not strictly true, although "[a]rt had ceased to be the primary drive of her life."[14]

Emily Carr, Kitwancool, 1928.

Growing recognition[edit]

Over time Carr's work came to the attention of several influential and supportive people, including Marius Barbeau, a prominent ethnologist at the National Museum in Ottawa. Barbeau in turn persuaded Eric Brown, Director of Canada's National Gallery to visit Carr in 1927,[15] and Brown invited Carr to exhibit her work as part of an exhibition on West Coast aboriginal art at the National Gallery. Carr sent 26 oil paintings east, along with samples of her pottery and rugs with indigenous designs.[16] The exhibit, which also included works by Edwin Holgate and A.Y. Jackson, traveled to Toronto and Montreal.

Carr continued to travel throughout the late 1920s and 1930s away from Victoria. Her last trip north was in the summer of 1928, when she visited the Nass and Skeena Rivers, as well the Queen Charlottes. She also travelled to Friendly Cove and the northeast coast of Vancouver Island, and then up to Lillooet in 1933. Recognition of her work grew steadily, and her work was exhibited in London, Paris, Washington and Amsterdam, as well as major Canadian cities.[17] Carr held her first solo show in eastern Canada in 1935 at the Women's Art Association of Canada gallery in Toronto.[18]

Association with the Group of Seven[edit]

It was at the exhibition on West Coast aboriginal art at the National Gallery in 1927 that Carr first met members of the Group of Seven, at that time Canada's most recognized modern painters. Lawren Harris of the Group became a particularly important support: "You are one of us," he told Carr, welcoming her into the ranks of Canada's leading modernists. The encounter ended the artistic isolation of Carr's previous 15 years leading to one of the most prolific periods, and the creation of many of her most recognizable works. Through her extensive correspondence with Harris, Carr also became aware of and studied northern European symbolism.[19]

The Group influenced Carr's direction, and Lawren Harris in particular, not only by his work, but also by his belief in Theosophy, which Carr struggled to reconcile with her own conception of God.[20] Carr’s “distrust for institutional religion” pervades much of her art.[21] She became influenced by Theosophic thought, like many artists of the time, and began to form new vision of God as nature. She led a spiritual way of life, rejecting the Church and the religious institution, and painted raw landscapes found in the Canadian wilderness, mystically animated by a greater spirit.[21]

Influence of the Pacific Northwest school[edit]

Carr exhibited in 1924 and 1925 at the Artists of the Pacific Northwest shows in Seattle, and fellow exhibitor Mark Tobey came to visit her in Victoria in the autumn of 1928 to teach an advanced course in her studio. Working with Tobey, Carr furthered her understanding of contemporary art, experimenting with Tobey's methods of full-on abstraction and Cubism, but was reluctant to go to Tobey's extremes.[19][22]

"I was not ready for abstraction. I clung to earth and her dear shapes, her density, her herbage, her juice. I wanted her volume and I wanted to hear her throb."[23]

Despite Carr's reluctance, the Vancouver Art Gallery, a major curator of Carr's work, records Carr in this period as abandoning the documentary impulse and starting to concentrate instead on capturing the emotional and mythological content embedded in the totemic carvings, which she did by jettisoning her painterly and practiced Post-Impressionist style in favour of creating highly stylized and abstracted geometric forms.[22]

Emily Carr, Odds and Ends, 1939.

Focus shift and late life[edit]

Carr suffered a heart-attack in 1937, and another in 1939, forcing her to move in with her sister Alice to convalesce. In 1940 Carr suffered a serious stroke, and in 1942 she had another heart attack.[24] With her ability to travel curtailed, Carr's focus shifted from her painting to her writing. The editorial assistance of Carr's friend Ira Dilworth, a professor of English, enabled Carr to see her own first book, Klee Wyck, published in 1941. Carr was awarded the Governor-General's Award for non-fiction the same year for the work.[25][26]

Emily Carr suffered her last heart attack and died on March 2, 1945, at the James Bay Inn in her hometown of Victoria, British Columbia, shortly before she was to have been awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of British Columbia.[27] Carr is buried at Ross Bay Cemetery.

Work[edit]

Painting[edit]

Carr is remembered primarily for her painting. She was one of the first artists to attempt to capture the spirit of Canada in a modern style. Previously, Canadian painting had been mostly portraits and representational landscapes. Carr's main themes in her mature work were natives and nature: "native totem poles set in deep forest locations or sites of abandoned native villages" and, later, "the large rhythms of Western forests, driftwood-tossed beaches and expansive skies".[28] She blended these two themes in ways uniquely her own. Her "qualities of painterly skill and vision [...] enabled her to give form to a Pacific mythos that was so carefully distilled in her imagination".[28]

Her painting can be divided into several distinct phases: her early work, before her studies in Paris; her early paintings under the Fauvist influence of her time in Paris; a post-impressionist middle period[14] before her encounter with the Group of Seven; and her later, formal period, under the post-cubist influences of Lawren Harris and American artist and friend, Mark Tobey.[29] Carr used charcoal and watercolour for her sketches, and later, house paint thinned with gasoline on manila paper.[30] The greatest part of her mature work was oil on canvas or, when money was scarce, oil on paper.

On 28 November 2013, one of Carr's paintings, The Crazy Stair (The Crooked Staircase), sold for $3.39 million at a Toronto art auction.[31] As of the sale, it is a record price for a painting by a Canadian female artist.

Writing[edit]

Emily Carr is also remembered for her writing, again largely about her native friends. In addition to Klee Wyck, Carr wrote The Book of Small (1942), The House of All Sorts (1944), and, published posthumously, Growing Pains (1946), Pause, The Heart of a Peacock (1953), and Hundreds and Thousands (1966). Some of these books are autobiographical and reveal Carr as an accomplished writer. Criticisms have been made of her dramatized short stories as many readers expect them to be historically accurate.

Recognition[edit]

Emily Carr, Blunden Harbour, 1930.

Carr's life itself made her a "Canadian icon", according to the Canadian Encyclopedia. As well as being "an artist of stunning originality and strength", she was an exceptionally late bloomer, starting the work for which she is best known at the age of 57 (see Grandma Moses). Carr was also an artist who succeeded against the odds, living in an artistically unadventurous society, and working mostly in seclusion away from major art centers, thus making her "a darling of the women's movement" (see Georgia O'Keeffe, whom she met in 1930 in New York).[28] Emily Carr brought the north to the south; the west to the east; glimpses of the ancient culture of the indigenous peoples of the Americas to the most newly arrived Europeans on the continent.

In 1952, works by Emily Carr along with those of David Milne, Goodridge Roberts and Alfred Pellan represented Canada at the Venice Biennale. [32] In the 1960s her works were exhibited at Galerie L'Art français.[33]

On 12 February 1971 Canada Post issued a 6¢ stamp 'Emily Carr, painter, 1871–1945' designed by William Rueter based on Carr's Big Raven (1931), held by the Vancouver Art Gallery.[34] On 7 May 1991 Canada Post issued a 50¢ stamp 'Forest, British Columbia, Emily Carr, 1931–1932' designed by Pierre-Yves Pelletier based on Forest, British Columbia (1931–1932), also from the Vancouver Art Gallery collection.[35]

Institutions named for Carr[edit]

In 1994, the Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature of the International Astronomical Union adopted the name Carr for a crater on Venus. The Carr crater has an approximate diameter of 31.9 kilometers.[36]

Emily Carr Inlet, a sidewater of Chapple Inlet on the North Coast of British Columbia, was named in Carr's honour.[37]

Biographies[edit]

Several biographies have been published of Carr's life with unsubstantiated speculations. The 2011 unpublished thesis,"Canadian Artist Emily Carr: A Psychoanalytic Portrait,"by Phyllis Marie Jensen, PhD, was accepted by the International School of Analytic Psychology in Zurich. One book by novelist Susan Vreeland "The Forest Lover" in 2004 is based on events from Carr's life, using Emily Carr as the main character/protagonist and altering some characters and chronology for the purpose of pacing. Each part of the novel is introduced by a reproduction of an actual Carr painting.[38]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lamoureux, Johanne, The Other French Modernity of Emily Carr, in Thom and Hill, eds, Emily Carr: New Perspectives on a Canadian Icon, Douglas & McIntyre, 2006, pp. 43–61 et seq.. ISBN 978-1-55365-173-4.
  2. ^ Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Foundation, Toronto. 2011< Retrieved 31 Jan 2011> 
  3. ^ "Siblings of Emily Carr". Retrieved 18 February 2013. 
  4. ^ "Emily Carr: A Biographical Sketch". Vancouver Art Gallery. Retrieved 21 April 2010. 
  5. ^ Braid, 2000, p. 13.
  6. ^ Braid, 2000, p. 15-16.
  7. ^ Braid, 2000, p. 55-56.
  8. ^ a b Carr, Emily, Growing pains: the autobiography of Emily Carr, Douglas & McIntyre, 2005, (p. 430 in the print edition). ISBN 1-55365-083-2.
  9. ^ Braid, 2000, p. 61-63.
  10. ^ Braid, 2000, p. 66.
  11. ^ "... Cumshewa seems always to drip, always to be blurred with mist, its foliage always to hang wet-heavy ... these strong young trees ... grew up round the dilapidated old raven, sheltering him from the tearing winds now that he was old and rotting ... the memory of Cumshewa is of a great lonesomeness smothered in a blur of rain.", Emily Carr, Klee Wyck.
  12. ^ Emily Carr, lecture notes, quoted in Doris Shadbolt, The Art of Emily Carr, North Vancouver and Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre and Clarke, Irwin & Company Ltd, 1979, p. 38.
  13. ^ Shadbolt, p. 40.
  14. ^ a b Shadbolt, p. 42.
  15. ^ Shadbolt, p. 52.
  16. ^ Shadbolt, p. 53.
  17. ^ Michael Breuer and Kerry Mason Dodd, Sunlight in the Shadows: The Landscape of Emily Carr, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1984, p. VIII.
  18. ^ Holmlund, Mona; Youngberg, Gail (2003). Inspiring Women: A Celebration of Herstory. Coteau Books. p. 216. ISBN 978-1-55050-204-6. Retrieved 2014-07-05. 
  19. ^ a b Emily Carr: Artistic Context, Vancouver Art Gallery. Accessed 16 March 2012.
  20. ^ Shadbolt, p. 58.
  21. ^ a b Walker, 1996, p. 114.
  22. ^ a b Modernism and Late Totems (1927–1932), Emily Carr: A Biographical Sketch, Vancouver Art Gallery. Accessed 8 January 2013. See also, Appelhof, Ruth Stevens, The Expressionist Landscape: North American Modernist Painting, 1920–1947, Birmingham Museum of Art, 1988, p. 60. ISBN 978-0295966915.
  23. ^ "Growing Pains" p. 457.
  24. ^ Emily Carr: A Biographical Sketch, Chronology, Vancouver Art Gallery. Accessed 18 March 2012.
  25. ^ "Carr, Emily National Historic Person". www.pc.gc.ca. 2012-03-15. Retrieved 10-02-2013. 
  26. ^ "Governor General's Literary Awards". Canada Council for the Arts. Government of Canada. Retrieved 6 August 2013. 
  27. ^ Shadbolt, p. 182.
  28. ^ a b c Doris Shadbolt (1945-03-02). "''Canadian Encyclopedia'' article". Thecanadianencyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2011-03-10. 
  29. ^ Shadbolt, p. 70.
  30. ^ Emily Carr: A Biographical Sketch, Technical Practices, Vancouver Art Gallery. Accessed 18 March 2012.
  31. ^ http://www.thestar.com/life/2013/11/28/rare_emily_carr_painting_sells_for_29_million.html
  32. ^ "Past Canadian Exhibitions". National Gallery of Canada at the Venice Biennale. National Gallery of Canada. Retrieved 12 October 2013. 
  33. ^ Vie des arts, printemps 1963, n°30, p.40, "Galerie L'Art français, 370 ouest, rue Laurier: Emily Carr" http://www.erudit.org/feuilletage/index.html?va1081917.va1205271@56
  34. ^ Canada Post stamp
  35. ^ Canada Post stamp
  36. ^ IAU/WGPAN Planetary Gazetteer, USGS Branch of Astrogeology, Flagstaff, Arizona.
  37. ^ "Emily Carr Inlet". BC Geographical Names. http://apps.gov.bc.ca/pub/bcgnws/names/28127.html.
  38. ^ Vreeland, Susan (February 2004). The Forest Lover. Viking Press. ISBN 978-0-670-03267-9. 

Sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

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