Professor Jack Lohman

Carr’s works heading for London exhibit

Emily Carr's artistic works to star in exhibit in London next month

  • Oct. 8, 2014 1:00 p.m.

By Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

VICTORIA – Emily Carr’s brooding, post-impressionistic paintings of West Coast aboriginal villages and British Columbia’s dark rain forests will soon appear in the same English art gallery that holds collections by masters like Rembrandt, Gainsborough and Rubens.

London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery, founded in 1811, is staging a six-month Carr exhibit called From the Forest to the Sea: Emily Carr in British Columbia. It runs from Nov. 1 to March 8.

“The first UK exhibition dedicated to Emily Carr, one of Canada’s most beloved and esteemed artists, virtually unknown outside Canada,” said a statement from Dulwich. “The exhibition will trace a dramatic trajectory from darkness to light.”

Royal B.C. Museum officials provided a sneak peak Tuesday of many of the pieces that will be part of the exhibit. The museum has the world’s largest collection of more than 1,100 of Carr’s works, including sketches, rugs and pottery, which are stored in a bunker in the museum.

Twenty-five of Carr’s works will be on loan to the Dulwich gallery, said the museum’s chief executive officer Jack Lohman.

He said he expects the London exhibit to generate huge international interest in Carr and the B.C. museum.

“Like all Canadian artists, she needs to be better known to be perfectly honest,” Lohman said. “The fact that she’s on at a national museum, one of the most significant national museums in London, means that she’s going to be very well known after this.”

He said more than a million people could pass through the museum during Carr’s exhibit.

“This sort of has a glow effect,” Lohman said, adding a one-day symposium featuring Carr scholars is being held in London on Oct. 31, the day before the official opening of the exhibit.

The B.C. museum’s Carr expert, Kathryn Bridge, said the early 20th century Haida Gwaii village scene Carr called Tanoo, Queen Charlotte Islands, will be the exhibit’s centrepiece.

Bridge said the painting, completed in 1913, is the largest in the museum’s collection and is a magnificent example of her interpretation of West Coast aboriginal culture.

“She was really a product of her time,” Bridge said. “She thought that First Nations art and culture was dying, and she, as an artist, had a particular opportunity to ensure that images like this would not be lost.”

Carr visited remote and abandoned First Nations villages on her own, sketching what she saw, and completed the major works in her Victoria studio, she said.

“For a woman in 1912, it was quite an unusual thing to do,” Bridge said. “She was dreadfully seasick, but she travelled nevertheless in small fishing boats to get to these abandoned villages.”

She said the museum’s Carr collection has all her important paintings and masses of other material, including sketch books, letters, journals and diaries.

“We know what was going through her mind at the time all through her life,” Bridge said.

Carr, one of Canada’s most eccentric and well-known artists, was born in Victoria in 1871 and died in 1945. She did not achieve fame during her lifetime.

Bridge said that in 1932, Carr’s friends raised $36 to buy one of her paintings and donated it to the B.C. government.

“They thought it was scandalous the government didn’t own anything by this then, really, undiscovered artist.”

The painting is called Kispiox Village, and its pinks and blues depicting life in a northwest B.C. aboriginal community is an example of Carr’s post-impressionistic phase after her year in France, Bridge said. The only estimate she could give of the painting’s current value would be that the $36 would be followed by several zeros.

Carr’s home in Victoria is a tourist attraction and a bronze statue in the city’s downtown shows her with her pet money Woo and her mixed-breed dog Beckie.

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