Emily Carr had a pet monkey named Woo. Their many adventures together were recorded in her journals and books. According to the temporary Royal BC Museum display now in Vancouver, BC, this unusual pet was “one of Carr’s most open challenges to mainstream society and its standards of behavior.” Indeed, Emily was a lifelong rebel who also doted on dogs.
Two of her paintings were hung at the 1911 Salon d’Automne exhibition in Paris. This controversial art showcase was established by artists like Matisse to defy the conservative Salon. But real international recognition for Emily Carr didn’t begin to happen until recently.
When she died in 1945, she was in her 70s. Over the past 60+ years her reputation has grown, and she is now finally emerging as, perhaps, Canada’s most important artist.
Carr lived in Victoria, British Columbia, most of her life but she was quite a traveler. She studied at the California School of Design in San Francisco and took art classes in France and England. At the age of 40, she made a First Nation’s sketching trip to record abandoned monumental totem carvings in native villages on the Canadian coast and a passion was born. She became especially familiar with the Queen Charlotte Islands.
She had 4 sisters and one brother, Richard, whom she was especially close to. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 23. One sister became a masseuse and another helped found the YWCA. When not on the road, Emily taught art and had a studio in Victoria where she ran a boarding house for 10 years.
She was a cartoonist for Western Women’s Weekly beginning in 1918. At the age of 55 she took a short story writing course which led to half a dozen books, 3 published posthumously. Award Winning Klee Wyck told of her travel adventures in British Columbia.
Most of the Carr paintings I’ve seen in museums are of totems and dark forests, but she also did seascapes, etc. A lot of her European era sketches and paintings remind me a lot of the work of Toulouse-Lautrec. Currently, there are 2 great temporary exhibits of her work in Vancouver, BC. The one at its main Art Gallery closes September 3. The other is in an experimental venue that I’ll tell you about tomorrow.
Although I’ve been aware of her art for many years, I didn’t especially appreciate Emily Carr or her considerable output until this trip. Now, like the world in general, I’m beginning to realize what a single-minded, talented force she was.