Artwork by Emily Carr,  Arbutus Trees

Emily Carr
Arbutus Trees

signed and dated 1908 lower left
14.5 x 10.75 ins ( 36.8 x 27.3 cms )

Auction Estimate: $70,000.00$50,000.00 - $70,000.00

Price Realized $52,900.00
Sale date: May 28th 2015

Acquired directly from the artist as a gift
Mrs. Ellen Christine MacKay Millar, British Columbia
By descent to Mrs. Isabella Grigg MacDonald (niece of Millar), New Liskeard, Ontario in 1944
By descent to Mrs. Margaret Gardner (daughter of MacDonald) on November 2, 1946
By descent to the current Private Collection, Ontario
Paul Duval, “Canadian Water Colour Painting”, Toronto, 1954, unpaginated
Maria Tippett, “Emily Carr: A Biography”, Markham, Ontario, 1982, pages 74-76
Linda M. Morra (ed.), “Corresponding Influence: Selected Letters of Emily Carr and Ira Dilworth”, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2006, pages 80-83
Sarah Milroy and Eric Dejardin (ed.), “From the Forest to the Sea: Emily Carr in British Columbia”, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, pages 119 and 283 for other depictions of arbutus trees by Carr
Ian Thom, “Emily Carr: A Pioneer on Paper”, “From the Forest to the Sea: Emily Carr in British Columbia”, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, pages 217-18
Emily Carr's career began in watercolour and, as Paul Duval notes, she “always retained an active interest in the medium.” Ian Thom also references the artist making “works on paper throughout her lifetime” and that these works show Carr “first and foremost, as a visual explorer, one who was actively engaged with her environs.” Following Carr's time in England between 1899 and 1904, the painter “achieved a more accomplished and direct plein-air approach to watercolour painting, but one that was deeply imbued with the values and style of the English watercolour tradition. Her work from this time... suggests a level of skill that few artists working in British Columbia could match.” During the summer of 1908, Carr “boarded the Union Steamship's Venture and sailed some 150 miles up the coast to Alert Bay”, staying with missionaries within a setting that provided a variety of images which excited the artist. Capturing the people, culture and surrounding landscape of the Kwakiutl nation, Maria Tippett speaks of Carr's process in watercolour during this period, the painter “worked 'like a camera', determined to be 'absolutely truthful and exact' because she was 'working for history.'”

Routinely found within proximity to the pacific ocean, arbutus trees would have been encountered by Carr during her travels and time along the coast. Featured in Carr's work throughout her career, the painter's depictions of arbutus trees can be found in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada (a 1922 canvas) and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, which houses a circa 1909 watercolour, painted during the same period as this work. While “Arbutus Trees (1908)” displays similarities with the 1909 watercolour in the structure and form of the trees, this watercolour places a heavier focus upon the arbutus, the multiple trees acting as the central figures within the landscape. The trunks and branches display an extended spectrum of colour ranging from light browns to explosive reds. Although the variety of reds and mauves present in the composition point towards Carr's eventual exposure to the fauvist method (the painter's transformative period of study in France would not occur until two years following the execution of “Arbutus Trees”), the range of colour can rather likely be attributed to Carr's photographic capture of the dramatic spectral potential of the trees. As the arbutus bark peels, the lighter layers expose a variety of rich colours in the skin below, ranging from greens to bright cinnamon reds, the latter electric tone glowing centrally within this watercolour.

Mrs. Ellen Christine MacKay Millar and her husband, the Reverend James A. Millar were Presbyterian missionaries in British Columbia during the early part of the twentieth century. “Arbutus Trees” was a gift from Carr to Mrs. Millar and has remained in the family since its acquisition, descending to its current owner. A handwritten inscription by the family on the reverse of the original framing reads that Mrs. Millar and Carr were “very close, dear friends, who shared a love of nature and the Indian people of B.C.” In a December 1941 letter to Ira Dilworth (the literary executor of the painter's writing), Carr relays a letter that she had received from Millar, which pleased her. Carr describes Millar's objection to the opinion that the artist did not appreciate missionaries, Millar being a missionary herself who “had received many kindnesses and friendship from Miss Carr.”

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Emily Carr
(1871 - 1945) Canadian Group of Painters

Born in Victoria, B.C. She was educated there until she was 16. Her parents died before she was 14 and her eldest sister managed the home. Rebellious against her sister's authority she persuaded the family guardian to allow her the study art in San Francisco. About 1888 she went to the San Francisco School of Art and returned to Victoria about 1895 where she set up a studio in a renovated barn behind her home. There she painted and taught art. In 1897 she travelled to Ucluelet on Vancouver Island, with a missionary friend, where she sketched an Indian village for the first time, but not consciously seeking Indigenous motifs. In her autobiography she wrote, " paint the Western forest did not occur to me...I nibbled at silhouetted edges...Unknowingly I was working ideas against the time when I should be ready to use material."

In Victoria, she had saved enough money through teaching to study in England at the Westminister School of Art, and landscape under Julius Olsson at St. Ives, and landscape under John Whitely at the Meadows Studio, Bushey. Visiting London she took ill and spent 18 months convalescing a the East Anglia Sanatorium which prompted her book "Pause". She returned to Victoria in 1904 and was invited to Vancouver to supervise classes of the Ladies' Art Club of Vancouver. Too serious in her teaching and too unsophisticated for the members' liking, Emily was dismissed after a month. She conducted classes for children in Vancouver which were successful. This brought the Ladies' Art Club President to suggest amalgamation of the two groups, but Emily, understandably, refused. That summer she took a pleasure trip to Alaska with her sister and while she was sketching in Sitka, an American artist seeing her work encouraged her to pursue the Indigenous motif in her own style.

It was after this trip that she decided to paint totem poles in their natural settings. Each summer she returned to the Northern coast of B.C. And did many canvases during that five year period (c. 1905-1910). In 1910 having saved enough money to go abroad, she studied in France at the Colorossi where criticisms were given only in French; finding this too difficult to follow she changed to another studio but took ill and travelled to Sweden for a rest. Returning to France a few months later she studied under Harry Gibb both at Cressey-en-Bri and at Brittany. Gibb encouraged individuality and originality in her work and two of her canvases were hung in the Salon d'Automne. Her work gained brightness characteristic of the Fauves which Gibb himself followed. She studied briefly under an "Australian" woman water colourist at Concarneau, later thought to be New Zealand artist Frances Hodgkins by D.W. Buchanan.

She returned to Victoria and to Vancouver in 1912 where she held an exhibition of her French paintings. They were rejected by everyone. Her new style lost her teaching opportunities but her spirit at this point was not broken for she wrote, "In spite of all the insult and scorn shown to my new work I was not ashamed of had brighter, cleaner colour, simpler form, more intensity."

With so few pupils she spent more time painting large canvases from her earlier Indigenous village sketches. Finally in 1913 with no pupils, no market for her work, she was forced to return to Victoria. She built an apartment house (The House of All Sorts) from family land and borrowed money. She took in roomers but was not able to make ends meet. In that period she raised 350 Old English Bobtail Sheep-dogs and with her own crude kiln in her back yard made pottery, sometimes in batches of 500 pieces which she decorated with Indigenous designs. These were very much sought after by tourists. She wrote, "...I ornamented my pottery with Indian designs- that was why the tourists bought it...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 clay. I loved the beautiful Indian designs, but I was happy about using Indian design on material for which it was not intended..."

Running a rooming house, raising dogs, and making pottery kept Emily from painting for about 15 years. It was not until Marius Barbeau in 1921 learned of her work from his Indigenous interpreter and brought it to the attention of Eric Brown, National Gallery of Canada Director, (although Mortimer Lamb had also shown interest in her work) that she became known to the rest of Canada. It was Brown who told her of the Group of Seven and F. B. Housser's book "Canadian Art Movement" which she bought and read from cover to cover. She loaned 50 of her paintings for the West Coast Indian Art exhibit organized by the National Gallery in 1927 and her work was well received. Travelling East for the opening, she visited A.Y. Jackson, J.E.H. MacDonald, and Lawren Harris in Toronto hanving read of their work in Housser's book. Heading West after the opening, she stopped at Toronto again to see Lawren Harris who became the inspiration and motivation in her development as a painter.

A change of style soon followed her visit East, notably with the canvas "Blunden Harbour" which Dr. Hubbard considers her most monumental of this period. Although Harris influenced her, he never tried to mould her; he encourages her individuality and eventually prompted her to seek liberation from the dominant Indigenous motif in her work. She turned to the forests of B.C. Using oil-on-paper in a powerful spiral like style described by Dr. Hubbard as an expression of "immense fertility of the earth and the irresistible force of nature.” Emily Carr travelled East several times as an invited contributor to the Group of Seven shows and on one occasion visited New York where she viewed works of American artists. By 1943 however, William Colgate notes in his book, "Her recent characterized by an eccentricity of design and a cloudiness of colour which stand in marked contrast to her earlier work...Whatever the cause, her painting has indubitably suffered because of it." Eleven years later, on reviewing her water colour work, Paul Duval wrote, "She did not hesitate to use whatever means necessary to attain her desired end. Some passages in her painting have a scrubbed look, others are delicately washed in, and there are frequent moments when her brush slashed the appear with the marks of a lash. System or non, Emily Carr registered souvenirs of her love of the Pacific Coast which are as affecting as any created in Canada."

Emily Carr sold her apartment home in 1936 and turned to full time painting and writing. Through a friend, Ira Dilworth learned of her work and became her literary executive. He had her stories read over the BCB at Vancouver and later took her manuscripts to the Oxford University Press in Toronto. "Klee Wyck" was published in 1941 and won the Governor General's award for the best non-fiction of that year; others followed: "The Book of Small", "The House of All Sorts", "Growing Pains", "The Heart of A Peacock", "Pause-A Sketch Book". Her paintings are in the collections of the the following galleries: Art Association of Montreal, Art Gallery of Ontario, Hart House, University of Toronto, Vancouver Art Gallery, The Lord Beaverbrook Collection, and the National Gallery of Canada in addition to many private collections.

Source: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume I: A-F", compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1977