Artwork by Emily Carr,  Deep in the Forest, 1935

Emily Carr
Deep in the Forest, 1935

oil on paper, mounted to canvas
signed lower right
33 x 23.75 ins ( 83.8 x 60.3 cms )

Auction Estimate: $300,000.00$200,000.00 - $300,000.00

Price Realized $192,000.00
Sale date: June 8th 2023

The Artist
Arthur Lismer, 1936
Gordon MacNamara, Toronto, circa 1938
William Sayer
Odon Wagner
Purchased by the present Private Collection, December 1990
“Emily Carr: Her Paintings and Sketches”, Art Gallery of Toronto/ National Gallery of Canada, 19 October 1945‒26 May 1946, no. 162 as “Trees” (loaned by Gordon MacNamara)
“Canadian Women Artists”, Riverside Museum, New York, 1947, no. 9
“Emily Carr Retrospective Exhibition”, Walter Klinkhoff Gallery, Montreal, 2002, no, 16
“From the Forest to the Sea, Emily Carr in British Columbia”, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto and Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, 1 November 2014‒12 July 2015
“Emily Carr: Her Paintings and Sketches”, Art Gallery of Toronto/ National Gallery of Canada, 1945, no. 162, listed page 59
Edythe Hembroff‒Schleicher, “Emily Carr: The Untold Story”, Saanichton, 1978, pages 131‒132
“Emily Carr Retrospective Exhibition”, Walter Klinkhoff Gallery, Montreal, 2002. no. 16, reproduced page 6
“Emily Carr, Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of Emily Carr”, Vancouver, 2006, page 264
Sarah Milroy and Ian Dejardin, “From the Forest to the Sea, Emily Carr in British Columbia”, Art Gallery of Ontario, 2014, reproduced page 70
Emily Carr’s profound connection to the natural world of British Columbia is evident in some of her earliest work. A 1909 watercolour, “Forest Scene” (Art Gallery of Greater Victoria), done before her training in France, shows a sensitivity to the natural world unusual for Canadian art of the period. Far from being repelled by the forest landscape, Carr embraces the scene, pulling the viewer into the natural world. Carr had worked outdoors, or “en plein air”, while training in England at the beginning of the twentieth century but little work survives from that period. It was while in France in 1911, training with William Phelan (Harry) Gibb (1870-1948) and others, that she really explored painting outdoors. The post-impressionist works, such as “Autumn in France”, 1911 (National Gallery of Canada), were influenced by Fauve-colours and have a lightness of touch that suggests Carr’s intense engagement with her subjects. Carr had gone to France to learn how to paint in a way that would allow her to tackle not the natural world but the First Nations subjects of British Columbia. These French lessons are seen in the great 1912 canvases, such as “Totem Poles, Kitseukla” (Vancouver Art Gallery), first seen by Group of Seven artists Lawren Harris and Arthur Lismer in 1927 in the exhibition, “Canadian West Coast Art: Native and Modern”, at the National Gallery of Canada. The 1912 canvases were done in Carr’s studio, based on studies (mostly in watercolour) done in the field. Her focus, however, was not on the landscape itself but rather the totemic forms of the First Nations people. The natural world played a subsidiary role in these works.

In the early 1930s, Carr, at the suggestion of Lawren Harris, turned her attention away from the totemic subjects back to the natural world. At the same period, she adopted a new sketching method. Rather than watercolour she began using oil paint, thinned with gasoline, on sheets of wood-pulp paper. This new approach had the advantage of great portability, very important when sketching outdoors; the materials were low in cost; and the thinned paint allowed Carr the freedoms of watercolour in a more robust medium. Initially, Carr conceived of oil on papers as studies for larger studio canvases but soon realized that these works were complete in their own right. She could go into her beloved forest, paint directly and convey her real experience of the natural world.

Carr’s body of oil on paper works is one of the great treasures of Canadian painting. Carr brought an immediacy and realism to her depictions of the forest landscape that continues to resonate with viewers long after her death.

As Edythe Hembroff-Schleicher has documented, Carr went sketching in the Metchosin (Albert Head) region, west of Victoria, in June and September of 1935. It is likely that Deep in the Forest was done on the second of these trips. Carr writes vividly of her painting experience in “Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of Emily Carr”.

“Sketching in the big woods is wonderful. You go, find a space wide enough to sit in and clear enough so that the undergrowth is not drowning you. Then, being elderly, you spread your camp stool and sit and look around. “Don’t see much here.” “Wait.” Out comes a cigarette. The mosquitoes back away from the smoke. Everything is green. Everything is waiting and still. Slowly things begin to move, to slip into their places. Groups and masses and lines tie themselves together. Colours you had not noticed come out, timidly or boldly. In and out, in and out your eye passes. Nothing is crowded; there is living space for all. Air moves between each leaf. Sunlight plays and dances. Nothing is still now. Light is sweeping through the spaces. Everything is alive. The air is alive. The silence is full of sound. The green is full of colour. Light and dark chase each other. Here is a picture, a complete thought...”

Carr might be describing “Deep in the Forest”. The light does sweep “through the spaces” and a rich variety of colour animates the trunks of the trees. “Nothing is still” but there is a sense of peace and spirituality. The section of Carr’s journals quoted above is titled “A Tabernacle in the Woods”‒a phrase that aptly describes our experience of this image. We join Carr in experiencing the vitality, sanctity and wonder of the natural world.

Somehow it seems fitting that the first owner of this work was Arthur Lismer, who in the 1950s turned his attention to depicting the coastal forests of British Columbia, undoubtedly with memories of Carr’s work in his mind.

“Deep in the Forest” is a superb example of Carr’s natural world. It is little wonder that the work was included in the memorial exhibition, “Emily Carr: Her Paintings and Sketches”, mounted just seven months after her death in 1945, at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the Art Gallery of Ontario) and the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.

We extend our thanks to curator and art historian, Ian Thom, for his assistance in researching this artwork and for contributing 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