Ruggedly individualistic, resourceful, adventuresome, indomitable: these character traits convey at least part of the complex personality of Canada's most remarkable West Coast painter, Emily Carr. After the death of both parents when she was a teenager, Carr left Victoria, [British Columbia] in 1890 for art studies in San Francisco, returning after three years. In 1898, before further studies in England, she made the first of several trips into the British Columbia wilderness, driven by a curiosity about Northwest Coast [First Nations] and their many villages, with their carved and painted houses and totem poles. Initially Carr concentrated on figure and portrait studies, but eventually she turned her attention almost exclusively to the monumental native carvings.

After 1910…

After 1910, [Carr’s] paintings are brilliantly coloured and brushed - evidence of her stay in France and her adoption of up-to-date European artistic modes. In 1913 she organized an exhibition in Vancouver of her works devoted to [First Nations] subjects. Despite some favourable response, the exhibition did little to satisfy Carr’s search for recognition, and the next fifteen years proved unfruitful. She painted little and struggled just to survive.

Meeting the Group…

In 1927 an event dramatically altered her life. Carr was invited to participate in an exhibition of Northwest Coast [First Nations] art at the National Gallery [of Canada]. Her meeting with members of the Group of Seven, particularly Lawren Harris, rekindled her urge to paint. She was thrilled by their support and encouragement (Harris had said, “you are one of us”) and by their similar struggles to comprehend the immense forces of nature and the spiritual world.

Carr painted and wrote passionately over the next decade and half until her death. Her images of the West Coast quiver with an unheralded expressive force, sometimes menacing, sometimes exhilarating. She had at last discovered her true creative self when she was nearly sixty.1

1David Wistow, "Emily Carr," The McMichael Canadian Art Collection (Kleinburg: The McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 1989) 133.

The McMichael Canadian Art Collection
Chris Finn

© 2006, McMichael Canadian Art Collection. All Rights Reserved.

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