Emily Carr, Strait of Juan de Fuca, detail, ca.1936, Oil on wove paper, mounted on plywood, 57.5 x 87.0cm, National Gallery of Canada, Bequest of Alfred E.H. Petrie, London, Ontario, 2000.
Emily Carr, Landscape, detail, ca.1935, Oil on wove paper, mounted on cardboard, 27.0 x 37.0cm, National Gallery of Canada, Bequest of Arthur Stanley Bourinot, Ottawa, 1969.
Emily Carr, Sawmills, Vancouver, ca.1912, Oil on canvas, 36.0 x 45.5cm, The McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Max Stern, Dominion Gallery, Montreal.
Emily Carr, Crécy-en-Brie, 1911, Oil on board, 32.7 x 40.8cm, British Columbia Archives, Presented in memory of Edward and Ellen Cridge, 1981.
Emily Carr, Women of Brittany, 1911, Watercolor and graphite on paper, 44.5 x 54.6cm, Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Acquisition Fund.
Emily Carr, Platter, 1924-1930, Clay and paint, 2.3 x 28.1cm, Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Bequest of Alice Carr.
Emily Carr, Killer Whale Rug, ca.1929, Wool, 98.0 x 78.0cm, National Gallery of Canada, Gift of John Davis Hatch, Lenox, Massachusetts, 1975.
Emily Carr, Totem Walk at Sitka, ca.1907, watercolor on paper, 38.5 x 38.5cm, The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, The Thomas Gardiner Keir Bequest.
Emily Carr, Skidegate, 1928, Oil on canvas, 61.5 x 46.4cm, Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust.
Emily Carr, Blunden Harbour, c. 1931, oil on canvas, 129.8 x 93.6 cm, National Gallery of Canada, Purchased 1937, 4285.
Emily Carr, Untitled (Forest Interior Black and Grey), c. 1930, Oil on paper on board, 89.4 x 60.7 cm, Vancouver Art Gallery.
Emily Carr, Self-portrait, 1938, Oil on wove paper, mounted on plywood, 85.5 x 57.7 cm, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.
Emily Carr, Reforestation, Cedar Sanctuary, c. 1942, Oil on paper, 91.5 x 61 cm, Vancouver Art Gallery.
Emily Carr, Untitled (Formalized Cedar), c. 1931, Charcoal on paper, 91.8 x 61.2 cm, Vancouver Art Gallery.
Emily Carr, Forest, c. 1940, Oil on paper, 91 x 59.5 cm, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinberg, Ontario.
Emily Carr, The Red Cedar, 1933, Oil, 111.0 x 68.5 cm. Location: Vancouver Art Gallery, VAG 5.4.7., © Vancouver Art Gallery.
Emily Carr, Guyasdoms d'Sonoqua, 1928-30, Oil on canvas, 100.3 x 65.4 cm, Art Gallery of Ontario.
Emily Carr, Zunoqua of the Cat Village, 1931, Oil on canvas, 112.2 x 70.1cm, Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust.
Emily Carr, Indian Church, 1929, Oil on canvas, 108.6 x 68.9 cm, Art Gallery of Ontario.
Emily Carr, A Rushing Sea of Undergrowth, 1932-35, Oil on canvas, 112.8 x 69 cm, Vancouver Art Gallery.
Emily Carr, Old Tree at Dusk, c. 1936, Oil on canvas, 112 x 68.5 cm, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinberg, Ontario.
Emily Carr, The Mountain, 1933, Oil on canvas, 111.4 x 68.0cm, The McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Max Stern, Dominion Gallery, Montreal.
Emily Carr, Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky, 1935, Oil on canvas, 112.0 x 68.9cm, Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust.
Emily Carr, Tree Trunk, c. 1931, Oil on canvas, 129.1 x 56.3 cm, Vancouver Art Gallery.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
1380 Sherbrooke Street West
Emily Carr: New Perspectives on a Canadian Icon
June 21-September 23, 2007
This nationally touring exhibition of the work of Emily Carr (1871-1945), the first in more than 30 years, presents some 200 objects — paintings, drawings, watercolors, caricatures, ceramics, sculpture, hooked rugs, books, maps, photographs and ephemera — 150 of them executed by the artist. The exhibition sheds new light on this celebrated Canadian, an eccentric and self-sufficient woman who was a writer as well as a painter. She is best known for her canvases of the landscape of the northern coast of British Columbia and of First Nations villages with their monumental totem poles. The show examines her legacy and the political and social context in which her art developed.
The exhibition is organized by the Vancouver Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Canada.It is presented in Montreal by Sun Life Financial.
Best known for her paintings of First Nations villages and landscapes of the northwest Pacific coast, Emily Carr (1871-1945) is the subject of numerous biographies, scholarly articles, documentary films, plays, a musical, an opera, and poetry. "Born the same year British-Columbia joined Confederation, she has contributed in her very own way in the making of our country's identity," says Pierre La Barge, Director of the National Gallery of Canada.
The exhibition Emily Carr: New Perspectives is the result of the collaborative work of Johanne Lamoureux of the Université de Montréal, Charlie Hill, Curator of Canadian Art at the National Gallery and Ian Thom, Senior Curator of Historical Art at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
A second portion of the show, inspired in part by the 1945 Emily Carr Memorial Exhibition, reveals Carr as a modernist artist, whose adept use of intense colours and increasingly expressive brushwork resulted in dynamic interpretations of her constantly evolving vision. Featured are her finest works dating from 1910 to 1942, covering the full breadth of her career.
Emily Carr: New Perspectives' final section explores how Carr consciously created her public persona through her caricatures, self-portraits, and writings, and allows the visitor to see Carr's work in the context of her times.
A fully illustrated catalogue, a bilingual Bell audio guide, a series of lectures, a scholarly symposium, and family activities complement this exhibition. Tickets for the exhibition and the symposium will be on sale starting April 5, 2006.
In addition to recognizing the invaluable support of Sun Life Financial, the National Gallery of Canada wishes to thank its media sponsors: CBC TV, la Télévision de Radio-Canada, The Ottawa Citizen and Le Droit.
The exhibition is supported by the Department of Canadian Heritage through the Canada Travelling Exhibitions Indemnification Program.
Emily Carr (December 13, 1871-March 2, 1945) was a Canadian artist and writer. She and Joyce Wieland are considered to be Canada's greatest female artists.
She was born in Victoria, British Columbia, and moved to San Francisco in 1890 to study art after the death of her parents. In 1899 she travelled to England to deepen her studies, where she spent time at the Westminster School of Art in London and at various studio schools in Cornwall, Bushey, Hertfordshire, San Francisco, and elsewhere. In 1910 , she spent a year studying art at the Académie Colarossi in Paris and elsewhere in France before moving back to British Columbia permanently the following year.
Emily Carr was most heavily influenced by the landscape and First Nations cultures of British Columbia, and Alaska. Having visited a mission school beside the Nuu-chah-nulth community of Ucluelet in 1898, in 1908 she was inspired by a visit to Skagway and began to paint the totem poles of the coastal Kwakwaka’wakw, Haida, Tsimshian, Tlingit and other communities, in an attempt to record and learn from as many as possible. In 1913 she was obliged by financial considerations to return permanently to Victoria after a few years in Vancouver, both of which towns were, at that time, conservative artistically. Influenced by styles such as post-impressionism and Fauvism, her work was alien to those around her and remained unknown to and unrecognized by the greater art world for many years. For more than a decade she worked as a potter, dog breeder and boarding house landlady, having given up on her artistic career.
In the 1920s she came into contact with members of the Group of Seven (artists) after being invited by the National Gallery of Canada to participate in an exhibition of Canadian West Coast Art, Native and Modern. She travelled to Ontario for this show in 1927 where she met members of the Group, including Lawren Harris, whose support was invaluable. She was invited to submit her works for inclusion in a Group of Seven exhibition, the beginning of her long and valuable association with the Group. They named her 'The Mother of Modern Arts' around five years later.
The Nuu-chah-nulth of Vancouver Island's west coast had nicknamed Carr Klee Wyck, "the laughing one." She gave this name to a book about her experiences with the natives, published in 1941. The book won the Governor General's Award that year.
Her other titles were The Book of Small (1942),The House of All Sorts (1944), Growing Pains (1946), Pause and The Heart of a Peacock (1953), and in 1966, Hundreds and Thousands. They reveal her to be an accomplished writer. Though mostly autobiographical, they have been found to be unreliable as to facts and figures if not in terms of mood and intent.
Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, Emily Carr Elementary School in Vancouver, British Columbia, Emily Carr Middle School in Ottawa, Ontario and Emily Carr Public Schools in London and Toronto, Ontario are named after her.
Emily Carr is interred in the Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria. Her gravestone inscription reads "Artist and Author / Lover of Nature". Under Canada's copyright laws, Carr's works became public domain at the beginning of 1996, 50 years after her death.
Emily Carr began her art education at a young age. She took weekly lessons from Emily Woods at her elementary school, and when her public school no longer offered art classes, her father Richard Carr secured private instruction for Emily and her sisters. In nineteenth-century Victoria, art was considered a genteel diversion for both married and unmarried women, but never a serious vocation. After the death of both her parents, Carr persuaded her guardians to allow her to enrol in art school in California. She left Victoria in the summer of 1890 to attend the California School of Design in San Francisco, under the close supervision of friends and family.
The school's pedagogical approach was traditional: students began by drawing antique casts, then progressed to still life and eventually life drawing. Carr took preparatory, antique and landscape classes, but her puritanical upbringing prevented her from attending life-drawing sessions with nude models. In her book Growing Pains, she wrote that she found the outdoor landscape classes to be the most enjoyable, suggesting that her predilection for painting the natural environment en plein air commenced at an early age. Unfortunately, her family's finances were mismanaged and Carr had to leave school. She had shown little improvement after more than three years there: by her own admission, her work from this time was "humdrum and unemotional — objects honestly portrayed, nothing more."1
Carr returned to Victoria in 1893 and began painting small watercolours and holding children's art classes in the cow barn on her family's property. She stuffed her earnings into a shoe suspended from the rafters of the barn and eventually saved enough money to continue her education abroad. Carr selected London over Paris because she was not fluent in French.
Just prior to her transatlantic journey in late 1898 or early 1899, Carr travelled with her sister Lizzie to visit a Presbyterian mission in Ucluelet (Hiiats'uu), a First Nations community on Vancouver Island. A few of her sketches from this trip have survived and are reminiscent of travel illustrations in their close attention to detail and documentary nature. Carr used pencil, pen and ink, and watercolour to depict individuals and village life. Her sketches are static and flat. The pen-and-pencil drawing Three Indian Girls, Ucluelet (c.1898), for example, with its rather stiff human forms, shows that her understanding of figure drawing was immature at the time.
Carr went to London hoping to receive progressive and stimulating education, but the Westminster School of Art, affiliated with the Royal Academy, was still quite conventional. An avid student, she attended day-long life-drawing classes and evening classes in design, anatomy and clay modelling. She became dissatisfied with both the quality of her education and London itself, and joined a summer sketching class in Berkshire after her first year of studies. She returned briefly to Westminster, then left permanently and travelled to the rural art colony in St. Ives, Cornwall. There she practised plein-air seascape and landscape painting with Julius Olsson and his assistant Algernon Talmage. Olsson was a British artist who specialized in sunlit seascapes, and Talmage painted landscapes in the tradition of John Constable. Carr and Olsson quarrelled constantly, but she found Talmage more agreeable: he understood her desire to paint the trees in Tregenna Woods. Here Carr received her first extensive education in outdoor painting and in techniques useful for depicting light.2
In the spring of 1902 she studied with John Whiteley at the Meadows Studio in Bushey, Hertfordshire. Whiteley was a traditional landscape watercolourist who advanced Carr's education in the study of nature. During this time Carr suffered a breakdown, and she spent her final eighteen months in England at a sanitarium in Suffolk, where she was not permitted to paint. Little of her work from this period has survived, probably having fallen victim to one of her many bonfires, but the watercolours she produced upon her return to Canada indicate that her British education did not strengthen the expressive power of her art.
Carr moved to Vancouver after securing a teaching job at the Vancouver Ladies' Art Club and rented a studio at 570 Granville Street. Around this time she befriended Sophie Frank and became a frequent visitor to the Squamish reserve in North Vancouver, Frank's home, where she sketched scenes of Aboriginal life and culture. In works such as Indian Reserve, North Vancouver (c.1905), her sense of depth and perspective are much improved over her earlier studies, and her landscape forms have achieved greater mass. The series of small watercolours that Carr produced in and around Vancouver during this period are uninspired, if accurate, renderings of the subject matter.
A pivotal moment in her career occurred during an Alaskan holiday she took with her sister Alice in 1907. In Sitka, Carr encountered Aboriginal monumental carvings — crest poles, mortuary poles and house frontal poles — for the first time. She sketched in the First Nations village in Sitka and in "Totem Walk," where poles had been "restored" and grouped together for maximum exposure to tourists. There she met an American artist, thought to be Theodore J. Richardson, who was earning his living selling watercolours of Aboriginal villages and carvings in New York. Carr showed him her sketches of Totem Walk, and later she reported that he had been impressed, saying that her work "ha[d] the true Indian flavour."3 At this moment, Carr solidified one aspect of her artistic career: the documentation of what she viewed as the rapidly disappearing culture of First Nations communities.
"The Indian people and their Art touched me deeply. By the time I reached home my mind was made up. I was going to picture totem poles in their own village settings, as complete a collection of them as I could...
"Indian Art broadened my seeing, loosened the formal tightness I had learned in England's schools. Its bigness and stark reality baffled my white man's understanding. I was as Canadian-born as the Indian but behind me were Old World heredity and ancestry as well as Canadian environment. The new West called me, but my Old World heredity, the flavour of my upbringing, pulled me back. I had been schooled to see outsides only, not struggle to pierce...
"Indian Art taught me directness and quick, precise decisions. When paying ten dollars a day for hire of boat and guide, one cannot afford to dawdle and haver [sic] this vantage point against that.
"I learned a lot from the Indians, but who except Canada herself could help me comprehend her great woods and spaces? San Francisco had not, London had not. What about this New Art Paris talked of? It claimed bigger, broader seeing.
— Growing Pains in The Complete Writings of Emily Carr, p. 427.
Between 1908 and 1910, Carr spent the summers travelling to First Nations villages throughout British Columbia as part of her documentary project. She had yet to focus her attention on totemic carvings; at this time she painted communities dotted with people and activity, chronicling life as she saw it. She approached her subjects with the conservative watercolour tradition that she had learned while in England. Her tonal range was limited, as in Alert Bay Mortuary Boxes (1908), for example, and she could not yet capture the details and complexities of the carvings, as evidenced in Street Scene, Alert Bay (c.1908). It was not until she went to France, to study the "New Art," that she acquired the skill to depict First Nations subject matter with the power and intensity that became her trademark.
Even while living in Victorian British Columbia, Carr was aware that the potential of art was much greater than what she had witnessed in California and England. In an attempt to experience this "New Art," Carr left for France on July 10, 1910, clutching a letter of introduction to William Phelan "Harry" Gibb, a British expatriate living in Paris. She stopped in Calgary, Edmonton, Quebec and London, UK, along the way. Carr hoped to discover new ideas and techniques that would help her break with her conservative approach and bring more power to her renderings of First Nations communities.
"I had brought with me a letter of introduction to a very modern artist named Harry Gibb... I stood by the side of Harry Gibb, staring in amazement at his walls. Some of his pictures rejoiced, some shocked me. There was rich, delicious juiciness in his colour, interplay between warm and cool tones. He intensified vividness by the use of complementary colour. His mouth had a crooked, tight-lipped twist. He was fighting bitterly for recognition of the "New Art"... Mr Gibb's landscapes and still life delighted me — brilliant, luscious, clean. Against the distortion of his nudes I felt revolt."
— Growing Pains in The Complete Writings of Emily Carr, p. 430.
In Paris, Carr adopted a diluted form of Post-Impressionism that integrated aspects of Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Fauvism, yet missed, or ignored, the radical techniques of artists such as Picasso, Braque and Matisse. Nonetheless, Carr's work was forever changed by her sojourn in France. In this period she succeeded in breaking with the British watercolour tradition and, more importantly, began to appreciate the expressive power of art. Now she understood the fundamental difference between visual reality and its transformation onto a flat canvas. Carr left France inspired by an expanded notion of the possibilities of art.
On Gibb's recommendation, Carr had initially enrolled at the Académie Colarossi, but she was uncomfortable in the male-dominated atmosphere, and she struggled with the language. She was unable to understand the "crits" of her teachers, and though she arranged with an American student to trade clean paint rags for translation services, he was absent so frequently that she had to abandon the deal. Finding city life oppressive, Carr began to suffer from ailments similar to those that had plagued her in London. She was convinced that she must leave Paris, but after consulting with Gibb, she decided to study in the private studio of John Duncan Fergusson and later attended his classes at the Atelier Blanche. Fergusson was a Scottish-born expatriate known for his rhythmic figure studies and his use of a vivid palette.2 Under his direction, Carr studied figure drawing and still life, and learned new paint application techniques and the use of the Fauve palette in thick, pronounced brush strokes. For the first time she began to work exclusively in oils, eliminating detail, flattening forms and creating structure and depth out of short, colourful brushstrokes.
Carr took a brief interlude in Sweden to stave off another collapse, then followed Gibb to Crécy-en-Brie and St. Efflam to attend his landscape classes. Gibb's instruction and criticism were critical to Carr's artistic development. He helped her to separate the sky from the landscape through the movement of her brushstrokes alone. More importantly, Gibb taught her to introduce imaginative power into her art, to represent her own vision and interpretation of the scene. Carr began experimenting with perspective, scale and colour, rather than remaining faithful to literal representations of natural forms.
In the French countryside, Carr painted village scenes, farms, churches and interiors of cottages, paying particular attention to the lives of peasants. Her new Post-Impressionist technique was perfectly suited to capturing village life, and she created street views and landscapes with short, broken brushstrokes and vibrant colour, as visible in Canal in France (1911) and Autumn in France (1911).
"I heard there was a fine water colorist (Australian) teaching at Concarneau, a place much frequented by artists. I went to Concarneau — studied under her. Change of medium, change of teacher, change of environment, refreshed me. I put in six weeks' good work under her.
"Concarneau was a coast fishing town. I sketched the people, their houses, boats, wine shops, sail makers in their lofts. Then I went up to Paris, crossed the English Channel, and from Liverpool set sail for Canada.
— Growing Pains in The Complete Writings of Emily Carr, p. 436.
Carr left Gibb when she felt she had learned all she could from him. She then joined Frances Hodgkins in Concarneau for a few weeks of study before returning to Canada. Hodgkins, a native of New Zealand, had made a name for herself as a watercolourist in a late Impressionist style and had the distinction of being the first female instructor at the Académie Colarossi. Under her direction, Carr returned to watercolour, but with her new knowledge and painterly technique. Hodgkins showed Carr how to let her washes run into each other and to use bold, broken outlines and minimal detail.3 Carr's figure studies, such as those seen in Women of Brittany (1911) and French Girl and Siphons (1911), reveal a significant improvement in her execution of the human form. In these paintings there is none of the rigidity and stiffness that characterized her earlier work.
In the watercolors that Carr produced under Hodgkins' guidance, concern for detail and documentation is gone, replaced with energy and movement. Some of these works are even more intense than her oils from the same period. In Street in Brittany (c.1911), for example, Carr uses a bold palette to create a charming village scene out of thick black outlines and minimal detail.
Before Carr left for Canada, two of her paintings, Le Collier and Le Paysage, hung in the juried exhibition at the Salon d'Automne. It is unclear whether she attended the Salon, but this was nonetheless a great triumph for Carr, who had never before exhibited in an important group show.
When Carr showed Gibb some of her early First Nations sketches, he encouraged her to continue pursuing the subject. He cited Picasso's interest in aboriginal African art as legitimizing Primitivism within the rubric of the Modern movement. With a new approach to painting and renewed confidence, Carr was eager to return home and apply the French style to her First Nations subject matter. She came back to Victoria feeling accomplished and worldly, and more prepared then ever to confront the complexities of the totemic carvings.
"I came home from France stronger in body, in thinking, and in work than I had returned from England. My seeing had broadened. I was better equipped both for reaching and study because of my year and a half in France, but still mystified, baffled as to how to tackle our big West."
— Growing Pains in The Complete Writings of Emily Carr, p. 436.
After leaving France confident that her interest in aboriginal culture was appropriate to the principles of the "New Art," Carr was eager to reinvent her existing material using her new French style. Soon after returning to Victoria, Carr again moved to Vancouver. She opened a studio at 1465 West Broadway, where she held an exhibition of her French canvases and watercolours on March 25, 1912. Viewers, ignorant of the radical art being produced in Europe, were shocked by the bold palette and lack of detail in her work. Carr had learned in France that negative reception was to be expected and, for the best and most dedicated artists, was actually a badge of honour. At least initially, she was not discouraged: with this exhibition she had introduced Fauvism to conservative Vancouver society.
"In spite of all the insult and scorn shown to my new work I was not ashamed of it. It was neither monstrous, disgusting nor indecent; it had brighter, cleaner colour, simpler form, more intensity. What would Westerners have said of the things exhibited in Paris — nudes, monstrosities, a striving after the extraordinary, the bizarre, to arrest attention. Why should simplification to express depth, breadth and volume appear to the West as indecent, as nakedness? People did not want to see beneath surfaces. The West was ultraconservative. They had transported their ideas at the time of their migration, a generation or two back. They forgot that England, even conservative England, had crept forward since then; but these Western settlers had firmly adhered to their old, old, out-worn methods and, seeing beloved England as it had been, they held to their old ideals... Nevertheless, I was glad I had been to France. More than ever I was convinced that the old way of seeing was inadequate to express this big country of ours, her depth, her height, her unbounded wideness, silences too strong to be broken — nor could ten million cameras, through their mechanical boxes, ever show real Canada. It had to be sensed, passed through live minds, sensed and loved."
— Growing Pains in The Complete Writings of Emily Carr, p. 437.
Carr continued to paint the Vancouver landscape using her new technique, with its simplification, indifference to detail and bold, visible brushstrokes. In works such as Vancouver Street (c.1912-13) and Sawmills, Vancouver (c.1912), produced shortly after her return from France, Carr applied her painterly French style to local Vancouver cityscapes. The result was quite successful. Carr infused these scenes with the light and energy that characterized her work from France, and they depict her own interpretation of what she saw. In Vancouver Street especially, her vibrant orange and green brushstrokes create form, and the separation between the houses and the streets is deliberately obscure.
Her new approach seemed appropriate for capturing Vancouver street scenes, but her First Nations subjects proved to be a more formidable challenge. In these works her artistic intent clashed with her documentary impulse. Carr began to struggle to reconcile her painterly approach, with its disregard for detail, with her desire to record faithfully the "disappearing" culture of Aboriginal communities.
"My object in making this collection of totem pole pictures has been to depict these wonderful relics of a passing people in their own original setting: the identical spots where they were carved and placed by the Indians in honour of their chiefs. These poles are fast becoming extinct. Each year sees some of their number fall, rotted with age; others bought and carried off to museums in various parts of the world; others, alas, burned down for firewood. In some instances the Indians are becoming ashamed of them, fearing that the white people whom they are anxious to resemble will regard them as paganism and will laugh at them, and they are threatening to burn them down."
— Lecture on Totems in Opposite Contraries, p. 177.
In July 1912, Carr embarked on a six-week sketching trip to Alert Bay ('Yalis), along the Skeena River and to the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii). On this trip she made sketches and watercolours that she would use later to create canvases in her studio. Appalled by how badly the carvings had deteriorated since her last visit, Carr became convinced that her new artistic style could not be applied to illustrations of the poles. She did not entirely revert to the documentary impulse, but she reined in her creative expressiveness to represent the poles as accurately as possible. She began once again to paint what she saw in front of her, rather than exploring the significance and expressive power of the totems themselves.
In each of the communities she visited, Carr sketched village scenes showing many poles while creating studies of individual totems that captured her interest. Totem Poles, Kitseukla (1912) is one such village scene: the lessons that Carr learned in France are discernible in her use of black outlines to give shape to the totemic forms and her gradations in tone. In this work, Carr differentiates the sky from the poles and houses by the application of paint, creating movement with short, painterly brushstrokes. Committed to rendering the poles as accurately as possible, Carr worked in a more expressive style to capture the sky and the foliage, while tending toward realism in her depiction of the poles and houses. Cumshewa (1912) is another good example of her watercolour technique from this period. Her handling of landscape demonstrates a new, sophistication, but she takes care to illustrate the particulars of the poles.
"Places are so difficult to get at, accommodation always meager, boats very erratic. You must therefore come quickly to your conclusions, select your objects and your view of objects. Time is so precious you dare not stop to rest up or think how tired you are. In places where there is much walking you must shoulder a very heavy pack. The elements always have to be buffeted. Wind, showers, hot sun, incoming tides. Indians satisfied as to why you've come, etc. You must be absolutely honest and true in the depicting of a totem, for meaning is attached to every line; you must be most particular about detail and proportion. I never use the camera nor work from photos; every pole in my collection has been studied from its actual reality in its own original setting and I have, as you might term it, been personally acquainted with every pole shown here."
— Lecture on Totems in Opposite Contraries, pp. 194-195.
In her studio she expanded on these field sketches, painting canvases — most of them small — that focus on a single pole. The few surviving notable works from this period, such as Tanoo, Q.C.I. (1913) and Indian House Interior with Totems (c.1912-13), demonstrate greater ambition. In Tanoo, Carr shows commitment to elements of Post-Impressionist style, including short, painterly brushstrokes and a Fauvist colour scheme. She also began to manipulate the location of the totemic structure in the frame for dramatic effect, bringing it closer to the front or sides, or cropping it. Although she uses a thick, black outline to give shape to totemic forms, the poles are noticeable for detail. These are interesting transitional works in which Carr's attempt to reconcile documentary impulse with her artistic ambitions is conspicuous.
In 1913, Carr rented Drummond Hall in Vancouver and held a public exhibition of almost 200 of her new First Nations paintings. The lack of support for her work, both financial and critical, forced her to close her Vancouver studio. She moved back to Victoria, where she planned to build a small apartment house with her share of the family's estate. Her feelings of rejection were compounded by the provincial government's refusal both to finance future trips to coastal villages and to purchase her collection of works to date for their anthropological value. Her use of a Fauve colour palette and manipulation of depth and perspective led the consulting anthropologist to conclude that her work was not an accurate depiction of coast villages.
Carr's totemic studies from this period were far superior in quality to those she produced before her education in France, yet she still failed to capture the power of the poles and the complexity of the carved animal and human forms. Even her best work from this period appears flat and static compared to her later canvases. She would wait nearly seventeen years before returning to this subject matter and would then finally possess the confidence, the skill and the intent to create bold, powerful paintings.
Although the newspaper accounts of Emily Carr's 1913 exhibition at Drummond Hall suggest mixed reaction to her work, she felt rejected and returned to Victoria. There she built Hill House, intending to establish an apartment house that would supplement her income and provide her with freedom to make art. The timing of her foray into the world of property ownership and management could not have been worse: the onset of World War I triggered an increase in the cost of living along with reduced demand for rentals. These forces had the ironic effect of consigning Carr, a woman who had consistently defied gender prescriptions, to a life of domestic labour.
With no extra money to hire help, Carr was obliged to act as landlady, rental agent, cleaning woman and chef. She ran the house as a dictator and had many clashes with her tenants, whom she later immortalized in her book The House of All Sorts.1 Carr claims that "[f]or about fifteen years [she] did not paint."2 This was not entirely true — she painted sporadically and exhibited in local art society shows in Victoria and Seattle — but she had neither the time nor the energy to commit to art. Her paintings from this period are mostly small landscape studies in her French style.
Carr supported herself throughout trying economic times by way of hard work and ingenuity. She grew large quantities of vegetables and fruit in her backyard gardens, sold some of the produce for profit and used the rest to feed herself and her boarders. For a brief time she also raised chickens and rabbits for commercial sale. In 1917 she established a bobtail kennel and spent many sleepless nights bottle-feeding puppies and nursing them to health. Her own memoirs convey the rapport she felt with the bobtail mothers and the implicit trust they placed in her to care for their offspring. Between 1917 and 1921 she raised and sold more than 350 bobtail puppies, earning much-needed income.
Carr also made pottery and hooked rugs that incorporated First Nations designs. For a time, her clay works were quite popular and sold at craft fairs across the country. She was ambivalent about working Native imagery into her pottery designs, anxious that she was committing a disservice to Aboriginal people by profiting from their traditional culture. The Aboriginal people of the Pacific Northwest did not use clay, so she considered her work a misuse of their motifs. She felt particularly bad when others, seeing how successful she was in the tourist trade, began to copy her designs with no respect for their traditional importance.
"I ornamented my pottery with Indian designs — that was why the tourists bought it. I hated myself for prostituting Indian Art; our Indians did not "pot," their designs were not intended to ornament clay — but I did keep the Indian design pure.
"Because my stuff sold, other potters followed my lead and, knowing nothing of Indian Art, falsified it. This made me very angry. I loved handling the smooth cool clay. I loved the beautiful Indian designs, but I was not happy about using Indian designs on material for which it was not intended and I hated seeing them distorted, cheapened by those who did not understand or care as long as their pots sold.
— Growing Pains in The Complete Writings of Emily Carr, p. 439.
Carr's life continued in this fashion for many years, and after being forced several times to give up her own studio and apartment to boarders and sleep in a tent in the yard, she no longer even considered herself an artist.
Possibly the biggest turning point in her life occurred in 1927, when she had almost abandoned the notion that she would ever return to art as serious vocation. Following a visit to her studio in 1926, the anthropologist Marius Barbeau wrote to Eric Brown, director of the National Gallery of Canada, informing him of Carr's work and suggesting that the Gallery purchase her entire collection. Brown showed little interest at the time, but he decided to visit her studio when he and Barbeau began planning a show entitled Exhibition of Canadian West Coast Art - Native and Modern.
Carr was not particularly friendly when Brown approached her on the porch of her Victoria home, but he persuaded her to show her paintings, and he was impressed by the quality of her work and astounded by her total isolation from the artistic movements of eastern North America. He selected twenty-six paintings in addition to hooked rugs and pottery for inclusion in the exhibition, the best representation of any artist in the modern section, and suggested that she read Frederick Housser's book A Canadian Art Movement to familiarize herself with the Group of Seven. He also offered her a complimentary rail pass to attend the opening.
Carr immediately went out and purchased Housser's book and was amazed by the work of the Group of Seven, particularly the reproduction of Lawren Harris's Above Lake Superior. In November 1927, on her way to Ottawa, Carr had the opportunity to meet Harris and the other members of the Group. Upon viewing their work she discovered a parallel between her own difficulties in portraying the vastness of the west coast and their attempts to represent the northern Ontario landscape. For the first time Carr felt that she was a part of something — participating in the development of Canadian Modernism.
"Went with Miss Buell and Mrs. Housser to tea at Mr. A.Y. Jackson's Studio Building. I loved his things, particularly some snow things of Quebec and three canvases up Skeena River. I felt a little as if beaten at my own game. His Indian pictures have something mine lack — rhythm, poetry. Mine are so downright. But perhaps his haven't quite the love in them of the people and the country that mine have. How could they? He is not a Westerner and I took no liberties. I worked for history and cold fact. Next time I paint Indians I'm going off on a tangent tear. There is something bigger than fact: the underlying spirit, all it stands for, the mood, the vastness, the wildness, the Western breath of go-to-the-devil-if-you-don't-like-it, the eternal big spaceness [sic] of it. Oh the West! I'm of it and I love it."
— Hundreds and Thousands in The Complete Writings of Emily Carr, p. 656.
She first visited A.Y. Jackson and admired his "Indian paintings," feeling "a little as if beaten at [her] own game."3 She then went to the studios of the other members of the Group living in Toronto, but it was the work of Lawren Harris that had the greatest influence on her. After she had spent some time in his Toronto studio, Harris became the central figure in Carr's life, guiding her artistic development and educating her about the importance of theosophy and the role of spirituality in art.
Carr's recollections of this time reveal her insecurities and lack of confidence, but the psychological effect of her acceptance in the eastern art community was profound. When she saw her work hanging with the Group's at the National Gallery exhibition, it became clear that she had much to learn from the men's work in terms of composition and form. Back in Victoria, Carr immediately began sketching and painting with a greater intensity than at any other time in her career. After more than a decade of limited artistic production, financial stress and personal and professional frustration, Carr resumed her exploration of First Nations culture and the west coast landscape with renewed vigour and passion.
"Oh, God, what have I seen? Where have I been? Something has spoken to the very soul of me, wonderful, mighty, not of this world. Chords way down in my being have been touched. Dumb notes have struck chords of wonderful tone. Something has called out of somewhere. Something in me is trying to answer.
"It is surging through my whole being, the wonder of it all, like a great river rushing on, dark and turbulent, and rushing and irresistible, carrying me away on its wild swirl like a helpless little bundle of wreckage. Where, where? Oh, these men, this Group of Seven, what have they created? — a world stripped of earthiness, shorn of fretting details, purged, purified; a naked soul, pure and unashamed; lovely spaces filled with wonderful serenity. What languages do they speak, those silent, awe-filled spaces? I do not know. Wait and listen; you shall hear by and by. I long to hear yet I'm half afraid. I think perhaps I shall find God here, the God I've longed and hunted for and failed to find. Always he's seemed nearer out in the big spaces, sometimes almost within reach but never quite. Perhaps in this newer, wider, space-filled vision I shall find him.
"Jackson, Johnson, Varley, Lismer, Harris — up-up-up-up-up! Lismer and Harris stir me most. Lismer is swirling, sweeping on, but Harris is rising into serene, uplifted planes, above the swirl into holy places."
— Hundreds and Thousands in The Complete Writings of Emily Carr, p. 658.
Having witnessed the boldness of vision of the Group of Seven artists, Emily Carr was determined to infuse her work with equivalent power, emotion and spirituality. In 1928, after selling three of her watercolours to the National Gallery for $75 each, Carr left for an extensive sketching trip in coastal British Columbia.
The work she produced during this time was the most formal and conceptual of her career and the most visibly influenced by external sources. From Lawren Harris, Carr borrowed a limited colour range, emphasis on green and blue hues, smooth geometric shapes and the inclusion of light to symbolize a spiritual presence. Harris also encouraged Carr to read Ralph Pearson's How to See Modern Pictures, a book that emphasized the importance of design and argued that composition and form took precedence over subject matter.
Mark Tobey, an artist with whom Carr had exhibited in 1924 and 1925 at the Artists of the Pacific Northwest shows in Seattle, came to Victoria in the fall of 1928 and taught an advanced course in her studio. Tobey proved to be an excellent counterpoint to Harris: he was forthcoming with pragmatic advice and was less interested in Carr's spiritual and psychological development.2 When she met Tobey, he was embarked on a period of great experimentation and had begun to adopt a Cubist technique of overlapping planes. He encouraged Carr to incorporate movement in her work, to play with perspective and to move toward semi-abstraction with jagged and disjointed forms. Carr toyed with abstraction, but she never felt comfortable taking her work to its extreme conclusion. Her most experimental charcoal investigations were necessary steps in the development of her own unique vision.
"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. I was tremendously interested in Lawren Harris's abstraction ideas, but I was not yet willing to accept them for myself."
— Growing Pains in The Complete Writings of Emily Carr, p. 457.
Carr's work from this period is interesting in comparison to her earlier totemic paintings. Here she abandoned the documentary impulse and concentrated instead on recording the emotional and mythological content embedded in the totemic carvings. The painterly, Post-Impressionist style that had characterized her work for almost two decades was replaced with highly stylized and semi-abstract geometric forms.
Skidegate (1928), painted from earlier sketch material soon after her trip to the east, captures this pivotal moment in her career. Although clearly influenced by the work she had seen in Ontario, Skidegate is less spiritual and symbolic than her paintings from the 1930s and is similar in subject matter to the series she created in 1912. The horizontal sky is less Cubist-derived than the disjointed planes that she later employed in works such as Kitwancool (1928) and Big Raven (1931).
Compared to her 1912 paintings of the same location, the new canvas is deeper, bolder and more stylized. Gone is the painterly sky created with short brushstrokes, the black outlines that gave shape to the pole, and the pale colour palette. There is much less detail in the pole, clearly marking a move away from the documentary intent, and the jagged, leafless tree forms are particularly reminiscent of Lawren Harris. These features, plus the geometric shapes, thick, sculptural brushstrokes and a deep colour palette represent a break with earlier styles. In the 1928 work, Carr adds light and a sense of spirituality that are absent in the earlier version and exhibit the influence of Harris and his theosophical teachings.
After working with Mark Tobey for three weeks, Carr began to explore the relationship between the natural environment and totemic forms. The trees in her paintings were no longer decorative background figures, and she created stylized and semi-abstract foliage out of fragmented geometric shapes. The overlapping triangular greenery in canvases such as Totem and Forest (1931), Strangled by Growth (1931) and Zunoqua of the Cat Village (1931) convey a mood of danger and despair, and Carr creates tension in her work by pitting forest against totem.
"I got a letter from Tobey. He is clever but his work has no soul. It's clever and beautiful. He knows a lot and talks well but it lacks something. He knows perhaps more than Lawren, but how different. He told me to pep my work up and get off the monotone, even exaggerate light and shade, to watch rhythmic relations and reversals of detail, to make my canvas two-thirds half-tone, one third black and white. Well, it sounds good but it's rather painting to recipe, isn't it? I know I am in a monotone. My forests are too monotonous. I must pep them up with higher contrasts. But what is it all without soul? It is dead. It's the hole you put the things into, the space that wraps it round, and the God in the thing that counts above everything.
— Hundreds and Thousands in The Complete Writings of Emily Carr, p. 668.
Zunoqua of the Cat Village is a good example of one of Carr's more conceptual works from this period. The cats' eyes and partial bodies are drowning in a sea of foliage, and the separation between the greenery and the feline forms is almost imperceptible. The totemic figure, unlike those in many of her earlier efforts, is gazing not directly at the viewer but at some unknown distant point. Carr's use of dark colours contributes to the ominous mood of the painting.
In Strangled by Growth, the sculptural foliage wraps itself around the totem, concealing all but the face. Here Carr hints at the ephemeral character of totems. At any point they are subject to being reclaimed by nature and returning to the soil to nourish new trees. The face of the totem seems to be screaming out in fear — a harrowing image. Light is reflected on a few yellow edges of the greenery, creating a divine presence within the foliage itself.
Big Raven, one of Carr's best-known canvases, depicts sinewy foliage circling the foot of the totemic bird. The sky consists of geometric shafts that shine down as the great bird stares nobly away from the viewer, accepting its fate. When this painting is compared to a watercolour depicting the same subject, Cumshewa (1912), the change in Carr's style is striking. In the 1912 work the foliage is more painterly and lacks the menacing quality present in the later canvas. The sky in Big Raven is far more spiritual and compelling; in Cumshewa the sky is livelier but also less powerful. The two works elicit quite different responses even though they depict an identical scene.
The paintings Carr created in the late 1920s and early 1930s are dark, in both colour and intent. Strangled by Growth and Big Raven, produced in February of 1931, mark the conclusion of her late totem period. For the next decade, she focused her attention almost solely on the landscape and abandoned Native themes. Her work was never again as formal or highly designed, and she scaled down her artistic process to infuse her work with movement and spontaneity. After this period, her forms were never quite as structured and geometrical. Grey (1929-30), one of her most accomplished works from this time, is a transitional piece that signals this evolution in subject matter. The forest in the work is simplified to a triangular form, and with no totem pole to carry the expressive power, the central tree is anthropomorphized with an eye-like form penetrating its centre. In Carr's next stage of artistic development, the landscape is forced to carry the emotional and spiritual weight of the canvas.
After heeding Lawren Harris's advice that she consider "leaving the totems alone for a year or more" to examine "the tremendous elusive what lies behind," Carr began to focus her attention on the forests, mountains and seascapes that surrounded her Victoria home.1 She no longer had to travel great distances to find appropriate sketching material and in 1933 purchased a caravan (camper), which she named "elephant" and had towed to various locations outside the city.
"I had now become independent of Indian material. It was Lawren Harris who first suggested I make this change.
"I had become more deeply interested in woods than in villages. In them I was finding something that was peculiarly my own. While working on the Indian stuff I felt a little that I was but copying the Indian idiom instead of expressing my own feelings."
— Growing Pains in The Complete Writings of Emily Carr, p. 453.
Although Carr had stopped using foliage as a decorative background device in her final totem paintings, her new landscapes rarely showed the stiff volumetric approach of her earlier work. Once she started to experiment with oil on paper, her work ceased to reflect the influence of Harris and Mark Tobey and their geometric formalism. She began to develop her own language to represent the western landscape, and expanded her subject matter to include more than just dense forest, now representing jungle, beach, sea and sky.
Carr's artistic technique changed as well. Instead of thick, sculptural brushstrokes, Carr employed light, swirling strokes that are at times reminiscent of the work of Van Gogh, the German Expressionists and Edvard Munch. Her approach was painterly, and her brushstroke once again became a visible and important component of the composition. Her colour palette was lighter and less monochromatic, and she experimented with bright blues, as in Blue Sky (1936) and Odds and Ends (1939), and with purple hues, as in Above the Gravel Pit (1937).
Her mastery of movement and spontaneity owed a lot to her use of the inexpensive and easily transportable oil-on-paper medium. She could apply the thinned oil paint with fluid ease, which allowed her to use brushstrokes to retain expressive value. The sheerness of the oils helped her to introduce light and air into her work. Her oil-on-paper sketches far outnumber her canvases from the period, but the oils that she composed are almost identical to the source material in intent, mood and composition.
The sketch relating to Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky (1935), for example, closely resembles the finished canvas. The foliage in the sketch is less defined than in the oil painting, but the rhythm, mood and light remain consistent. In both sketch and canvas, the spindly tree and the sky become one, and Carr's use of light creates an impression of ecstasy and transcendence. In many of her oil paintings, she succeeded in retaining the rhythm and spontaneity of her oil-on-paper sketches. In canvases such as Swirl (1937) and Reforestation (1936), the viewer can almost feel the undulating winds as the forest is transformed into a rolling sea of green.
Light becomes central to the paintings, representative of spirituality and infinite possibility. The frightening and antagonistic side of the forest that figured so prominently in her formal period is absent from the work of this time. Now, light emanates from nature's forms, creating a mood of joy and jubilation. In such works as Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky and Above the Gravel Pit, Carr locates spiritual energy within nature itself. Even when she depicts pillaged and devastated trees, as in Stumps and Sky (c.1934), Forest Clearing (1939) and Trees in the Sky (1939), the mood is not one of despair, but of renewal and regeneration. The swirling spirals that make up the sky in Stumps and Sky hint at a spiritual presence, and the tall, skinny second-growth pines in Trees in the Sky represent the cycle of nature and rebirth.
"God is in them all. Now I know that is all that matters. The only thing worth striving for is to express God. Every living thing is God made manifest. All real art is the eternal seeking to express God, the one substance out of which all things are made. Search for the reality of each object, that is, its real and only beauty; recognize our relationship with all life; say to every animate and inanimate thing "brother"; be at one with all things, finding the divine in all; when one can do all this, maybe then one can paint. In the meantime one must go steadily on with open mind, courageously alert, waiting always for a lead, constantly watching, constantly praying, mediating much and not worrying."
— Hundreds and Thousands in The Complete Writings of Emily Carr, p.675.
Images of mountains proved to be the greatest challenge for Carr: her journals contain a number of passages that detail her struggle to infuse such a solid form with movement and energy. She is most successful when she situates the mountain in the distance, as in Landscape (c.1935), and less successful in works such as The Mountain (1933). Despite the light radiating from the sky, the bulky presence of the mountain dominates the canvas and lacks the rhythm present in much of her other work.
"Direction, that's what I'm after, everything moving together, relative movement, sympathetic movement, connected movement, flowing, liquid, universal movement, all directions summing up in one grand direction, leading the eye forward, and satisfying. So to control direction of movement that the whole structure sways, vibrates and rocks together, not wobbling like a bowl of jelly.
– Hundreds and Thousands in The Complete Writings of Emily Carr, p. 701.
Carr's paintings progress toward the depiction of infinite space, and in the final works she produced before her heart attack in 1937, the sky predominates. In Strait of Juan de Fuca (c.1936), for example, she achieves a sense of infinite space by using colours and brushstrokes that make no distinction between the sea and the sky. Sky (1935-1936) has a similar effect: all movement originates from the bright light that emerges from a parting in the sky. In Overhead (1936) and Victoria Sight Across the Water (1937), Carr has created a view of an infinite sky shimmering with light. In these canvases, energy is two-directional, originating in both landscape and sky and flowing between the two.
In these works, Carr finally achieved the spirituality in her work that she had been searching for since 1927 when she was so profoundly moved by the work of Lawren Harris. Her landscape canvases and oil-on-paper sketches glisten with spiritual energy and indicate that Carr had finally found transcendence and peace. Her work, at last, is her own: she has discovered her own unique language to depict the power and exuberance of the western landscape.
"Lawren's work influenced me. Not that I ever aspired to paint like him but I felt that he was after something that I wanted too. Once I used to think, 'How would Lawren express this or that?' Now I don't think that any more. I say, 'Emily, what do you make of this or that?' I don't try to sieve it through his eye, but through mine."
— Hundreds and Thousands, in The Complete Writings of Emily Carr, p. 738.
As the 1930s came to an end, Emily Carr, advanced in years and not in good health, began to divide her time between her art and her nascent literary career. Although Klee Wyck, her first book, was not published until 1941, Carr began in the early 1930s to mould her memories into short literary sketches. In 1937 she suffered a heart attack and during her convalescence devoted all her energy to writing, which she could do in bed. She recovered sufficiently to resume painting, but was frail and could only work from existing sketch material and her recollections. In writing Klee Wyck, her reminiscences of time spent in First Nations villages, Carr found a renewed interest in Aboriginal subject matter. She wrote to Nan Cheney in May 1941, "going over the Indian Sketches has stirred up a homesickness for Indian."
"I have been having a kind of general regurgitation of my work preparatory to moving. Everything has had to be cleaned and sorted in a general review of thoughts that had shaped themselves into sketches and sketches that had shaped themselves into canvases. I've done an immense amount of work. In looking back I can see the puckerings of preparation for ideas that burst later and bore fruit, little brown acorns that cracked their shells and made little scrub thickets full of twists, and a few that made some fairly good oaks. Tired though I am, I want to start working again. The afterlooks at some things have made me anxious to wriggle out of that particular rut and try another."
— Hundreds and Thousands in The Complete Writings of Emily Carr, p. 881.
Carr returned to Aboriginal themes but approached the material with the techniques and vision that she had developed over the previous decade. The five works she produced embody all of the themes and issues with which she struggled throughout her career.2 Using the same sketch material that was the foundation of her earlier totems, Carr abandoned the formalized, geometric designs that were prevalent in her work during the late 1920s and early 1930s. Now she sought to infuse her canvases with the light, movement and space that figured so prominently in her landscape paintings of the 1930s.
Rather than being the focal point of the canvases, the poles have become elements of a greater story and a more ambitious composition. Carr's brushstrokes are much lighter than in her formal period, and her colour palette is less sombre and deep. Forsaken, one of the first canvases she painted while recovering from her heart attack in 1937, marks her return to First Nations imagery. Though the title and the dense undergrowth are reminiscent of her late-1920s themes of abandonment and despair, the light shining down on the pole suggests a more optimistic message of perseverance and longevity. Forsaken also incorporates many of the methods Carr employed throughout her career to depict the forest. The overlapping geometric tree forms evoke her formal period, while the rolling hills and the freer, less designed foliage are drawn from her landscape work.
Carr again explored the relationship between the natural environment and totems, but with a noticeably different perspective than what is discernible in studies such as Strangled by Growth (1931) and Vanquished (c.1931). The bleak, menacing tone is gone, replaced with a serene sense of coexistence. The imagery of abandoned poles being strangled by aggressive foliage gives way to a mood of tranquility and peace: the relationship is no longer antagonistic.
A Skidegate Pole (1941-42) and A Skidegate Beaver Pole (1941-42) both feature a single large totem pole surrounded by rolling hills and light, swirling sky. Pole, sky and foliage seamlessly fuse as one; no element more important than another. The rhythm of the sky and landscape clashes with the solid pole, an unsuccessful juxtapositionl. Although the color of the totem and foliage in A Skidegate Pole is dark, Carr introduces light behind the totem to invoke spiritual presence. Compared to the 1912 oil based on similar source material, this work demonstrates how Carr had progressed by the conclusion of her career. The early work is much less intense and powerful than the later canvas, and Carr's handling of landscape is decorative and ineffectual.
In A Skidegate Beaver Pole, the totem and the houses are partly concealed and are floating, not drowning, in rolling landscape — a subtle change from earlier works. Although its base is invisible, the pole looms large over the scene, seemingly unthreatened by the undergrowth. This work also has a corresponding oil from 1912, which appears static and factual by comparison. Carr's introduction of movement into the later canvas completely alters the mood and the expressive power of the pole and its relation to the natural world.
"Lawren and Bess came in today. Lawren pulled out a lot of canvases but his crits were not illuminating, although they were full of admiration and appreciation... I observed that he turned back to former canvases with epithets like 'swell,' 'grand,' 'beautiful,' and the later canvases he was perhaps more silent over. I wonder if the work is weakening and petering out. Perhaps so. I feel myself that the angles is [sic] slightly different. Perhaps the former was more vigorous, more disciplined, but I think the later is more thoughtful. I know it is less static. Perhaps the static was more in line with his present abstract viewpoint. He was enthusiastic enough and complimentary — but not enlightening. Praise half as warm many years ago would have made me take off into the sky with delight. Now I distrust criticism. It seems to be of so little worth. People that know little talk much and folk that know halt, wondering, self-conscious about their words. Perhaps the best thing I got out of this visit of the Harrises was a calm looking with impartial eyes at what Lawren pulled out of my racks, things I had almost forgotten that stirred my newer and older thoughts together in my mind and made me try to amalgamate them.
— Hundreds and Thousands in The Complete Writings of Emily Carr, p. 890.
In 1942, with the help of Ira Dilworth, Carr went on her final sketching trip to Mount Douglas Park. The results were her late landscape paintings, The Clearing, Cedar, Quiet, and Cedar Sanctuary, all made in 1942. These canvases restate the vision of the west coast landscape that Carr worked on during her career. In their serenity and calm, they possess neither dark antagonism nor ebullient joy that characterized her earlier work. Cedar and Quiet are distinct for the absence of light and sky; instead, Carr uses numerous gradations of green to depict the dense forest. These canvases are also different from her mid-1930s work, in which the sky predominates, more reminiscent of her earlier tree studies but without their geometric designs.
It is possible that this new tone of Carr's work had much to do with her improved disposition. Toward the end of her career, she began to receive acclaim and to enjoy commercial success, and her friendships were closer than any other point in her life.
In 1945, while preparing for her annual exhibition at Vancouver Art Gallery, Carr was overwhelmed by exhaustion. She checked herself into a nursing home for rest. Less than a week later, she suffered a heart attack and died March 2, 1945.