Emily Carr

Emily Carr Photo

The highly esteemed painter and writer, Emily Carr was born on December 13, 1871 in Victoria, British Columbia to Emily and Richard Carr. She was brought up in an English household because of her father who was a British immigrant. Right from her early childhood she displayed a propensity for art which distinguished her from her other siblings. Even though her parents encouraged her passion, it was only after their death that she started to pursue it seriously.

In 1890, Carr left for San Francisco where she enrolled herself in the San Francisco Art Institute. After staying there for around three years, she left for London where she attended the Westminster School of Art. She found the traditional training featuring mostly still life portraits and landscapes, unsatisfying and she moved to France where she at last found what she was looking for. She studied with teachers who introduced her to Fauvism and post-impressionist style of painting.

Carr was deeply intrigued by the life and ways of the aboriginals and in 1907, she came across a remote village of indigenous people which made her determined to capture the essence of their being through her art. After her return from Europe, she embarked on a journey to document the live of the natives residing around Haida Gwaii and Skeena River.  Some of her paintings such as the “Big Raven” and “Tanoo” were inspired by these encounters. She compiled her paintings using her newly learnt French style and planned an exhibition which sadly did not yield a great success. Convinced that the people of Vancouver would not understand her work, she decided to give up painting and returned to Victoria where she managed a boarding house on her part of the family estate.

For fifteen years she kept herself away from her work and focused on domestic issues however in 1927, some of her previous art work attracted the attention of people like Marius Barbeau who was serving as an ethnologist at the National Museum in Ottawa. He convinced the National Gallery’s director, Eric Brown to extend an invitation to Emily Carr to display her work on the aborigines at the National Gallery.  Carr sent several paintings and pottery for the exhibition and it was around this time that she encountered the Group of Seven. After being motivated by them, especially Lawren Harris, she decided to return back to her art seriously and embarked on the most efficacious part of her career. Initially her paintings were bold and soulful, featuring aboriginal totem poles in either isolated locations or deep in the woods but she later shifted to nature representations. Her paintings show various styles which she was influenced by such as Fauvism, Abstraction, Cubism, Post-impressionist and Futurism. However she never radicalized any particular style to an extreme.

In 1937, following the deterioration in her health, she found it hard to keep up with her sketching and painting and hence decided to focus on building her literary career. Most of her books are autobiographical and centered on either a girl or a woman. The unpretentious style of writing garnered her substantial popularity amongst her readers.

Emily Carr passed away in March 1945, just when her work was finally getting the recognition it deserved. She is known as a “Canadian Icon” and has several institutions named after her in her honor.


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