Emily Carr, a renowned Canadian artist & writer was always inspired by the coastal environment of British Columbia. Her paintings were a reflection of picturesque western Canada. As one of the most original Canadian painters of the early twentieth century, some of the most popular of Carr’s creations included the great Indian Church (1929), Odds and Ends (1939), and Vanquished (1931), amongst several others. 

Early years

Emily Carr was born in 1871 in Victoria, British Colombia, Canada. She was the eighth child in a family of nine children and was well disciplined with English manners and values. From Europe to America to finally settling down in Canada, Carr’s father eventually became a successful merchant. As a child, Carr’s father encouraged her artistic inclinations. At the age of 18, although she was orphaned, she persuaded her guardians to attend San Francisco to study art at the California School of Design. This helped her build the basics in creating art and gave her aspirations to become an artist. After her art study trip to England in 1899, she also attended the Westminster School of Art in London. Soon after, Emily Carr became ill and returned to Victoria by 1905. Even in isolation, she didn’t stop creating conventional art. In 1905, Carr did a series of cartoons for Victoria’s paper ‘The Week’, she also spend time teaching children. 

(Pictured above) Emily and her sisters from left: Lizzie, Edith, Clara, Carr, and Alice
(Pictured Above) Emily Carr with siblings and parents Richard & Emily Carr @ TimeToast

Emily Carr was determined to pursue her love for art to the very extend of possibility. In 1910, she set off to France along with her sister to learn more about new modernist art at Studio Colarossi. Although she was undertaken by some of the most renowned painters including Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, Carr developed her own post-impressionist style of painting. In 1911, she bought back her bold and colorful style of creating art to Victoria and soon opened a studio in Vancouver. 

Her artistic adventures

(Pictured above) Created during her travels to First Nations villages, Emily Carr described the statues as maintaining their dignity despite wear and age, titled “Skedans”, c.1912

At the age of 27, Emily Carr created several artworks that were inspired by her discovery of aboriginal culture. She had visited southern Kwakiutl villages and even stayed in a village near Ucluelet. Her exploration into the culture left a lasting impression on her sketches. In 1912, Carr went on a six-week painting trip to nearly fifteen First Nations villages along the British Columbia coast. Although her work was exhibited in Victoria, she earned her livelihood by renting out rooms and growing fruit, and making pottery. The locals in Vancouver failed to support her choice of painting style and bold selection of colors, hence the studio had to be closed and Carr returned to Victoria. 

But, as time would have it, Carr’s work began to be noticed by influential and supportive people like Marius Barbeau, a prominent ethnologist at the National Museum in Ottawa. In the Canadian art space, she became a recognizable name with her work. This eventually led to having her work of West Coast aboriginal art displayed at the National Gallery alongside the work of Edwin Holgate and A.Y. Jackson. 

Being recognized 

In 1927, Carr was in her late fifties when she was nationally recognized. Eric Brown, the director of the National Gallery of Canada, invited her to be a part of the Group of Seven. About twenty-six of her oil paintings were displayed in the Exhibition of Canadian West Coast Art: Native and Modern. Apart from her paintings, samples of her pottery and rugs with Indigenous designs were also put on display. Soon after, her work began to get recognized and was exhibited in London, Paris, Washington, DC, and Amsterdam, as well as major Canadian cities. 

(Pictured above) In the 1930s, Emily Carr focused on creating artwork of the landscape around her Victoria, BC home. “Above the Gravel Pit”, c.1937
(Pictured above) Powerful & rare expressionistic self-portrait of Emily Carr. “Self Portrait”, c.1938
(Pictured above) Emily Carr showcased threatened indigenous life and culture with a raven figure, which would typically be a part of a village, now being reclaimed by the forest. “Big Raven”, c.1931

Carr passed away in 1945 in Victoria, but her paintings continue to live. Carr was recognized as a representative of Canadian art and was awarded the Honorary Doctorate of Letters by the University of British Columbia just before her death. Ira Dilworth, a friend and the executor of Carr’s estate went on to publish her first autobiography in 1946 and named it Growing Pains. This was followed by two more volumes in 1953 The Heart of a Peacock, a book of recollections and fictional stories that he organized from the papers left to him; and Pause: A Sketch Book.