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 )

Sold for $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

Carr was raised as the youngest of three sisters in a traditional Anglo-Saxon household in Victoria, B.C.. Despite Carr's notoriety for being a strong-willed eccentric, she gained the respect and admiration of Group of Seven members, especially Lawren Harris. Carr and Harris exchanged letters often and she felt he was one of the only people who she could speak freely with about art, nationalism, theosophy and spirituality. Along with several members of the Group of Seven, Carr was one of the founding members of the Canadian Group of Painters.

Educated at the San Francisco School of Art (1889-1895), Westminster School of Art in London (1899-1904), and in Paris (1910-11), Carr introduced French Modernism to British Columbia. The fauvist aesthetic Carr had adopted while abroad was far from the traditional landscape paintings that dominated the western Canadian art scene at the time. Her use of bright colours and her disinterest in detail was so new to Victoria that she did not gain much local appreciation until her later years. Despite her lukewarm praise at home, Carr received generous reviews in Paris and this kept her motivated. English teacher Ira Dilworth, American abstract painter Mark Tobey, and art dealer Max Stern were some of Carr's key supporters and who recognized her contribution to the Canadian art scene. Eventually, the inspiration she drew from European avant-gardism melded with the graphic simplicity and symbolism of Native American totems to create some of her best known artworks.