Artwork by Emily Carr,  Untitled (Mount Verstovia, Sitka, Alaska)

Emily Carr
Untitled (Mount Verstovia, Sitka, Alaska)

signed lower right
10.75 x 14 ins ( 27.3 x 35.6 cms ) ( sheet )

Auction Estimate: $60,000.00$40,000.00 - $60,000.00

Price Realized $48,000.00
Sale date: December 6th 2023

Gift of the Artist to Dorothy Mawdsley and Marjorie Leeming, British Columbia
Gift of Dorothy Mawdsley to the Present Private Collection, Victoria
Maria Tippet, “Emily Carr: A Biography”, Toronto, 1979, page 74
Emily Carr, “Sister and I in Alaska”, Vancouver, 2013, page 20
At the age of twenty in 1891, Emily Carr began to pursue art seriously and studied at the California School of Art and Design in San Francisco for two years, before later enrolling at the Westminster School of Art in London in 1899. Upon her return home to British Columbia in 1905, after also visiting the art colony in St. Ives, Cornwall, Carr took up a successful teaching position in Vancouver and began taking sketching trips.

In 1907, Carr travelled to Alaska with her sister, Alice. Carr recorded this inspirational visit to Alaska in ‘Sister and I in Alaska’, a delightful, illustrated diary. The pair left from Seattle on August 18th, 1907, on the ‘S.S. Princess Royal’. As Maria Tippet shares, “the boat passed mile upon mile of wooded shore, snow–capped mountains that rose out of the sea, fiords that bit deep into the coast, bleak Indian villages, noisy fish canneries, and rowdy lumber camps.” Upon docking at Sitka on Baranof Island, Emily and Alice spent a week exploring. Their adventures were extensively documented in Carr’s notebook. The women endeavoured to climb the 3,354–foot Mount Verstovia.

This mountain range is located a few miles east of Sitka and it is a very steep climb to the summit. In ‘Sister and I in Alaska’, Carr recalls the treacherous hike up the mountain, recording with humour how she and Alice squeezed under logs, climbed trees, scaled cliffs, and shed their heavy clothes before collapsing in pure exhaustion. Recorded with a sketch of the tired looking sisters on their journey, Carr writes, "This mountain [was] excessively steep and rugged and reaching almost to the heavens lies in the rear of Sitka, there being but one obscure trail, to loose which is certain death. We arose at dawn and wrestling with an agony of sleep: but well provided with luncheon. We started for the launch that was to bear us to the foot of ‘Vestovias’."

This watercolour was possibly executed on the spot at the base of Mount Verstovia. The riot of colours depicted in the flowers of the foreground are perfectly balanced against the towering peaks of the mountain and the heavy clouds of the background. The watercolour, executed in the English Victorian tradition, displays Carr’s level of artistic ability after her early conservative training in San Francisco and London, as well as a burgeoning interest in the tenets of modern painting. This is a rare and early watercolour by Carr from a transformative period in her artistic career.

This artwork was acquired from Carr by Dorothy Mawdsley and Majorie Leeming of Vancouver. These women both held prominent positions at the University of British Columbia and were in the same academic circle as Walter Gage, Garnet Sedgewick and Ira Dilworth, all acquaintances of Emily Carr, and proponents of both her painting and writing. As well as her family being neighbours with Carr in James Bay, Majorie Leeming was a lifelong friend of Carr and a student of the artist in Vancouver. The painting was later given to the present owners, acknowledging their close friendship with Leeming and Mawdsley.

We extend our thanks to the late Dr. Kerry Mason, Canadian art historian, for her assistance in researching this artwork and for contributing details that led to the preceding essay.

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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