1871 - 1945
oil on paper on board, July 1938
signed and on verso titled
24 x 36 in 61 x 91.4 cm
Estimate: $250,000 - $350,000
Sold for: $277,250
Nan Lawson Cheney, Vancouver
Colonel and Mrs. Victor Spencer, British Columbia
By descent to the present Private Collection, Ontario
Doreen Walker, editor, Dear Nan: Letters of Emily Carr, Nan Cheney and Humphrey Toms, 1990, pages xliv - xlv, 45, 88, 93, 94 and 95
Inscribed on verso: "1937 / "By Emily Carr, Victoria, BC" / "Property of Mrs. Hill H. Cheney, Capilano B.C." (crossed out) and replaced with "Mrs. Victor Spencer, Aug. 10, 1962" (subsequent owner)
Artist Anna Gertrude “Nan” Lawson Cheney, the first owner of Telegraph Bay, met Emily Carr in November of 1927. Their friendship developed when Cheney summered in Victoria in 1930 and visited with Carr several times. In the fall of that year, after Cheney had returned to her Ottawa home, the two artists began corresponding. Cheney, who had married Dr. Hill Lawson in 1924, became one of Carr’s most significant correspondents, and when the Cheneys moved to Vancouver in 1937, the friendship deepened. The younger artist painted Carr’s portrait that year (in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada). Cheney, who later became a distinguished medical artist, worked as a landscapist during the late twenties and early thirties, but had studied portraiture with both Edwin Holgate and Lilias Torrance Newton from 1933 to 1934. The two women, working as artists, had a great deal in common. Although it is uncertain whether this work was a gift from Carr to the younger artist, this seems likely.
The inscription on the back of the work, noted above, while helpful in terms of provenance and title, is somewhat misleading. Capilano, a section of what is now North Vancouver, east of the Capilano River, was the community where Cheney and other artists (including Jock Macdonald) lived. While the subject of this work is Telegraph Bay, a small cove on the northeastern outskirts of Victoria, the painting was done in July of 1938, rather than 1937. Poor health prevented Carr from doing much painting in 1937. In a letter to Cheney she wrote: “Guess there’s no sketching in woods for me this year and I am missing the getting off terribly.” In 1938 Carr, having sold her caravan The Elephant, which she had used as a mobile studio from 1933 to 1936, was well enough to rent a cottage in Telegraph Bay. In a letter Carr wrote to Cheney (postmarked June 20, 1938): “Well yesterday Shirley [Duggan (later Bennett), Carr’s assistant] & I bounced in the worst motor I have ever boarded, out to see the Telegraph Bay cottage.” In a postcard to Humphrey Toms (postmarked July 11), Carr reports, “Here be I – working, it’s nice, - last house before the sea.” A later letter to Cheney (postmarked July 25) illuminates Carr’s sojourn: “I am enjoying the cottage very much, it is so airy, very quiet, & restful & the joy of again being in woods is tremendous…I’ve done quite a lot of work.” Despite having several visitors, Carr worked “morning & night” so that visitors had “not interfered with my sketching,” she wrote.
Carr worked directly from the landscape and noted that the paintings, when complete, were “taken straight from my board to a high shelf & never once looked at.” The board that Carr refers to was her painting board, which supported the paper as she executed the work. The paintings Carr approved of were later mounted on backings (plywood or doorskins) at her house to give them more support. Telegraph Bay clearly shows the immediacy, freedom of brush-stroke and movement Carr gained from using oil mixed with gasoline on paper. The composition is marked by bold rhythms that encompass the sky, the sea and the land. Carr’s pleasure at being able to sketch in the landscape again is manifest in the luminous sky, shimmering sea and vital life force of the trees. The small conifer in the right foreground seems to crackle with energy. The composition as a whole is an exuberant celebration of a wonderful summer’s day by the sea. Carr, working swiftly and decisively, is at one with nature and her art.
We thank Ian M. Thom, senior curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery from 1988 to 2018, contributor to From the Forest to the Sea: Emily Carr in British Columbia and author of Emily Carr Collected, for contributing the above essay.
Estimate: $250,000 - $350,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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