Fine Canadian Art Fall 2007 Live auction
Lot # 147
BCSFA RCA 1871 - 1945 Canadian
Arbutus Tree / Untitled Portrait verso
double-sided oil on canvas circa 1913 ~ 1920
22 1/8 x 18 1/8 in 56.2 x 46cm
Laing Galleries, Toronto
Private Collection, Quebec
By descent to a Private Collection, Ottawa
Sold sale of Fine Canadian Art, Heffel Fine Art Auction House, November 25, 2004, lot 126
Private Collection, Victoria
Alexandra Gill, "Emily Carr", The Globe and Mail, October 21, 2004, reproduced in colour, front page
Emily Carr had few opportunities to paint during the period 1913 - 1928, but despite her duties as landlady, dog breeder, sometime cartoonist for the local newspaper and ceramicist she occasionally turned her attention to the landscape. This handsome painting is one of two oils from this interim period in which she depicted the arbutus trees so common on the West Coast (the other canvas, dated 1922, is in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada). Carr had treated the arbutus on a number of occasions, including a fine early watercolour (in the collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery) before she went to France. She was, of course, struck by the vivid colouration of the trunks of the tree and this canvas uses the vivid orange of the trunk to great effect. Carr is able to use the colour to contrast it with the greens of the foliage and ground cover and the intense blue of the ocean. Here Carr is able to make full use of the lessons she learned with Harry Phelan Gibb in France. In the manuscript for Growing Pains she describes one of his sketches as follows: "It was not a copy of the woods & fields, it was a realization of them. The colors were not matched, they mixed with air. You went through space to meet reality. Space was the saliva that made your objects swallowable." This is an apt description of this work, the tree has palpable weight and exists within a fully realized landscape. Carr is not afraid to use colour expressively rather than matching it to reality - this is seen in the trunk of the tree itself but also in the foliage of both foreground and background trees. It is a vivid and exciting canvas and one which, while indebted to the example of Gibb, is clearly Carr's own vision.
This work has a portrait of an unidentified young woman on the verso, which Carr essentially discarded as she obscured the portrait by washy paint when she decided to use the other side of the canvas. Careful conservation to remove this overpaint has revealed this sensitive image. This work, which may date from the period of her early training in San Francisco at the California School of Design (now the San Francisco Art Institute) which she attended from 1890 - 1893, is an important early example of Carr's work as a portraitist. While there are several early watercolour portraits, this is the earliest oil portrait known. Loosely painted, this somewhat ethereal portrait recalls the work of Eugène Carrière, the French painter who was immensely popular and widely admired in the latter part of the nineteenth century.
Estimate: $500,000 ~ $700,000 CAD
Sold For: $546,250.00 CAD (including buyer's premium)