1871 - 1945
oil on canvas, circa 1929
signed and on verso inscribed "ST# A403" and "Date 30/1/74" / "No. 2711" on the Art Emporium label
24 3/4 x 15 in 62.9 x 38.1 cm
Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000
Sold for: $325,250
Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave
The Art Emporium, Vancouver, 1974
Acquired from the above by George and Geraldine Biely, 1974
Estate of Geraldine Biely, Vancouver, 2015
By descent to the present Private Collection, Vancouver
Doris Shadbolt, The Art of Emily Carr, 1979, page 62, the circa 1929 – 1930 Forest Interior canvas, Newcombe Collection, Provincial Archives of British Columbia, titled as Untitled, reproduced page 97, catalogue #70
Maria Tippett, Emily Carr: A Biography, 1979, page 167
Emily Carr, The Complete Writings of Emily Carr, Growing Pains, 1993, page 453
Emily Carr, Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of Emily Carr, 2006, pages 56 and 57
From 1928 to 1931, Emily Carr was evolving from the Post-Impressionist influences that had entered her work as a result of her trip to France in 1911. Her development came about through both external influences and her own internal evolution. In September of 1928, American artist Mark Tobey, whom she had met earlier at a Pacific Northwest exhibition in Seattle, came to Victoria to teach a master class in her studio. He then stayed for three weeks to teach in Ina Uhthoff’s studio, and his advice was influential.
Carr told Eric Brown, director of the National Gallery of Canada, “I think [Tobey] is one of the best teachers I know of…I felt I got a tremendous lot of help from his criticisms.” His advice was about form, as he was particularly interested in the Cubism of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, and he also advised her to increase the contrast of light and shade in her work. Carr absorbed the influence of Cubism, and its energized expression of motion and energy entered her work, to its great advantage. Tobey’s influence accelerated her evolution, but although Carr took pointers from Tobey, he was not her guru.
Another outside influence on Carr’s work during this period was Lawren Harris. Carr had met him in Toronto in 1927. Seeing his work at his studio was a revelation, and she respected his opinions. In 1929, Harris advised her to leave her native subject matter for a year or so, to instead express, as he described it, “the exotic landscape of the island and coast.” In Carr’s native subjects, the woods were present, but as backdrops for villages and curling around the bases of totems.
Carr accepted Harris’s advice, because a new perspective had been emerging in her mind. As she wrote in Growing Pains, “I had become more deeply interested in woods than in villages. In them I was finding something that was peculiarly my own.” She was also well aware of First Nations peoples’ supernatural relationship with their environment. The mystery and power of primordial West Coast forests was something that First Nations peoples mythologized, such as in the figure of D’Sonoqua, the intimidating wild woman of the woods, depicted by Carr in her circa 1930 canvas Guyasdoms D’Sonoqua (collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario).
When Carr decided to immerse herself in the forest, bringing her materials with her to paint on the spot, she experienced her own powerful spiritual connection there, one that uplifted and sustained her personally and artistically. This passage from her journal Hundreds and Thousands conveys the intensity of her feeling:
“Go out there into the glory of the woods. See God in every particle of them expressing glory and strength and power, tenderness and protection…Feel their protecting spread, their uplifting rise, their solid immovable strength…Listen, this perhaps is the way to find that thing I long for: go into the woods alone and look at the earth crowded with growth…pushing its way upward towards the light and air, each one knowing what to do, each one demanding its own rights on the earth.”
Typical of this time period, in Forest Interior, we see Carr’s absorption of Cubism in the hatched triangles on the forest floor, the stepladder-like zigzag stylization in the far upper left half and the horizontal hatching behind the central tree forms. Thick trunks rise to the top of the picture plane, like columns in a cathedral, and Carr uses bare canvas and pale paint hues to show light from the sky illuminating the interior down to the forest floor. It is in paintings such as this that we feel Carr’s spiritual connection with the forest – this is her church, her link with the divine. But even while absorbed by the life energy of the forest, at the same time she shows her modernist affiliation with important international movements, with the work of artists finding their creative pulse in other parts of the world.
Forest Interior is a rare and important work. A very similar canvas (figure 1), also titled Forest Interior, circa 1929 – 1930, in the Newcombe Collection, Provincial Archives of British Columbia, is reproduced in Doris Shadbolt’s 1979 book The Art of Emily Carr on page 97, indicated as Untitled.
Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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