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Untitled (Self-Portrait)

Untitled (Self-Portrait), 1924
oil on paperboard
39.4 x 44.9 cm
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust
VAG 42.3.50
Photo: Trevor Mills, Vancouver Art Gallery


Self-Portrait, 1938-1939
oil on wove paper, mounted on plywood
85.5 x 57.7 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Gift of Peter Bronfman, Toronto, 1990

In Her Own Words (Grades 4–7)


Students learn about Emily Carr the writer.

Description of Activity:

Students listen to excerpts from Carr's autobiography Growing Pains and then respond to the artist's words in written and visual form.


1 session, 60 minutes

Background Information for Teachers:

Emily Carr struggled for recognition as a painter for most of her life. Critics, patrons and even her own family complained that her canvases were too experimental. Her work as an author, however, was an immediate success. Her first book, Klee Wyck, won the Governor General's Award for 1941, the year it was published. A semi-autobiographical account of her travels to First Nations communities in British Columbia, Klee Wyck takes its title from the name given to Carr by the Nuu-chah-nulth people during her visit to Hiitats'uu (Ucluelet) in 1899.

Carr followed Klee Wyck with two other books, The Book of Small in 1942 and The House of All Sorts in 1944. Her other major works, Growing Pains: The Autobiography of Emily Carr (1946) and Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of An Artist (1966), were published after her death in 1945. Growing Pains and Hundreds and Thousands contain some of the most engaging examples of her writing, showing how Carr often worked out her ideas about art on the page.

Read more about Emily Carr the writer.

Preparation for Teachers:

Materials for Students:


Part I

  • Read selected excerpts from Growing Pains to students.
  • Ask students to write down points and keywords that they remember from the reading.
  • Have students draw a portrait of Carr, inspired by her words.
  • Display student portraits of Carr.

Part II

  • After a class discussion about the portraits they have created, show students Untitled (Self-Portrait), 1924. Consider how Carr depicts herself in this painting. Where is she? What is she doing? How is she posed? What is she wearing? Carr does not look at the viewer in her self-portrait. Discuss the impact of this with students.
  • How does Carr's image of herself differ from how students see her? How are the two similar? Show students Carr's later Self-Portrait, 1938–39. Compare this painting to Carr's earlier self-portrait. How do the two portraits differ? What factors might have contributed to this change?

Further Engagement:

  • In addition to her novels and autobiography, Emily Carr kept a journal in which she recorded her impressions of the world around her. Have students read a selection of her entries. They may choose to write letters to the artist, or short stories, poems or plays inspired by her life, work and words.

Appendix: The Artist In Her Own Words