Artwork by Emily Carr,  European Street Scene

Emily Carr
European Street Scene

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

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
Emily Carr Retrospective, Masters Gallery Ltd., Calgary, March 13 - 20, 2013
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

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.