Artwork by Emily Carr,  European Street Scene

Emily Carr
European Street Scene

watercolour
signed and dated 1911 lower left
15 x 10.75 ins ( 38.1 x 27.3 cms )

Sold for $276,000.00
Sale date: November 23rd 2017

Provenance:
Estate of Emily Carr
Major M.C. Holmes, Victoria
Sotheby’s Canada, auction, Toronto, November 2, 1989, lot 17
Collection of Brian Adams, Vancouver
Heffel Fine Art, auction, Vancouver, May 9, 2001, lot 239
Private Collection, Calgary
Exhibited:
Emily Carr Retrospective, Masters Gallery Ltd., Calgary, March 13 - 20, 2013
Literature:
Ian M. Thom, Emily Carr in France, Vancouver Art Gallery, 1991, pages 14, 27-30, listed as “Street Scene” page 73
Maria Tippett, Emily Carr: A Biography, Markham, Ontario, 1982, pages 95-96
Emily Carr’s avant-garde style emerged out of her artistic training in France, where she trained under modernist painters Harry Gibb and Frances Hodgkins. “European Street Scene” was painted by Carr toward the end of her stay in the late summer of 1911, when the artist spent several weeks honing her watercolour skills in a coastal town of Brittany.  

Determined to broaden her knowledge of current artistic trends and further her training in drawing and painting, Carr left Victoria for France in 1910 to experience the art of the European Avant-Garde firsthand. She was accompanied by her sister Alice, who spoke French and served as her interpreter. Ian Thom writes that Carr was startled by the artwork she encountered upon their arrival to the French capital, as “it is likely that Carr was previously only vaguely, if at all, aware of the Fauves and was completely ignorant of Cubism.” Carr had been given a letter of introduction from a woman in Victoria to an English artist residing in Paris, named Harry Gibb. She and Alice met Gibb in Montparnasse and Carr was struck by his modernist work as well. Though essentially unknown today, Gibb was closely connected with the Parisian art world at the time, counting Matisse, Braque and Gertrude Stein as close friends.

Carr was advised by Gibb to enroll at l’Académie Colarossi, but after several weeks she fell ill and left for Sweden to recuperate. Upon her return to France she avoided Paris and went straight to Crécy-en-Brie, followed by Saint Efflam, to study landscape painting under Gibb. Carr was astonished to learn that one could paint using colour that did not ‘match’, and proceeded to incorporate bold and expressive colours into a large number of work. Her work became increasingly linear, with a greater confidence in the use of colour, the handling of space and the application of paint. When their four-month session came to a close, Gibb remarked to Carr: “If you go on you should be one of the women painters of the world.”

After a tremendously productive and fulfilling experience with Gibb during the summer of 1911, Emily Carr was still not yet ready to return to Canada, detached from the art centres and critics, for she feared that she “would go home and drown in the uncharted sea of tremendousness.” She had heard that an artist from New Zealand named Frances Hodgkins was leading watercolour classes in the small port of Concarneau, on the coast of Brittany. An artist with ‘an exuberant Late Impressionist technique’, Hodgkins was a brilliant watercolourist whose work displayed spontaneity and imaginative colour combinations. Carr spent the late summer and early fall of 1911 in Concarneau with Hodgkins, creating watercolour depictions of the crooked cobblestoned streets and its residents of the old fortified town. European Street Scene, depicts a row of buildings on a Concarneau street, one of which is occupied by washerwomen at the door and in the windows. Carr found that her new Fauve palette could easily be incorporated into this traditional medium. She also found that some of Hodgkins’ own colours were to her liking, particularly vert émeraude, cadmium, and French blues and yellow ochre. “European Street Scene” demonstrates the artist’s recent shift to incorporate these ‘French blues’ into her work, as seen in the walls and roofs of the buildings as well as the sky. Tippet remarks that “the heavy broken line with which Hodgkins outlined her forms quickly became the structural basis for almost all of Carr’s Concarneau work.” The strong, loose black outlines of the buildings in “European Street Scene” show Carr’s increasing ease in the medium and diminishing concern with detail and realism. The artist said of her stay in Concarneau: “I worked with fresh gay vigor sitting in wine shops and sail lofts on the quay or back in fields. I learnt a lot and was happy.”

Ian Thom writes: “The watercolours from the summer of 1911 are perhaps the most important of the works which Carr executed in France. As a group they have an assurance and immediacy which is not always felt in the oils.” Carr’s stay in Concarneau marked a period of profound change in her watercolour painting, serving as an excellent conclusion to her fourteen-month sojourn in France. She had taken the final leap from the traditional school to the modern in her colourful interpretations of the Brittany coast. Carr visited Paris briefly in the fall, where two of her paintings were being shown in the Salon d’Automne at the Grand Palais. In November 1911, she returned to Victoria a more mature, skilled, and confident artist. In an article published in conjunction with an exhibition upon her return to Canada, Carr was described as “an enthusiastic disciple of the modern French school of art.”
Secured from a Calgary collection during Consignor’s 2017 national appraisal tour, “European Street Scene” fetched $276,000 during the November live auction, exceeding the high end of expectation.

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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 dies 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, “...to paint the Western forest did not occur to me...I nibbled at silhouetted edges...Unknowingly I was storing...my 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 it...it 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 painting...is 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