This Week in History


Future Artist is born!

This story was initially published in 1998

On a stormy winter's night, December 13, 1871, Emily Carr was born in Victoria, British Columbia. She went on to become a noted Canadian painter and writer. She is best known for her compelling canvases of the British Columbia landscape and her documentation of Native villages, but she also wrote a series of wonderful autobiographical books.

<i>Self-portrait</i>, Emily Carr

Self-portrait, Emily Carr
© British Columbia Heritage Branch

Emily grew up in the Carr family house with four sisters and a younger brother. Her family and friends called her "Millie." When her parents died during her early teens Emily decided that instead of living with her older sister she would go to art school in San Francisco. She later studied in Paris and London. Unfortunately, the stress of the big cities and the hard work made her sick, so she returned to Canada.

Back in Victoria in 1913, Emily taught art, became a landlady, and bred dogs in order to support herself. Her big break came in 1927, when she was 56 years of age. The National Gallery of Canada asked her to bring some of her paintings to Ottawa for an exhibition. On her trip, she met several members of the Group of Seven painters, who inspired her to return seriously to her painting. Emily is best known for her pictures of totem poles and Aboriginal villages and of the forests of British Columbia. She painted with bold strokes, and used lots of green, blue and brown colours. Emily developed new techniques that made her painting style very unique.

<i>Deep Forest, Lighted</i>, VAG 42.3.62

Deep Forest, Lighted, VAG 42.3.62
© Vancouver Art Gallery/Trevor Mills

It is strange that during her lifetime, Emily was more successful with her writing than her painting. She kept journals and wrote many letters during her life. After a severe heart attack in 1937, her health declined and she began to spend more time writing than painting. In 1941 Emily published Klee Wyck, a book about her travels in British Columbia, which received a Governor General's Award. She published several more books, including Growing Pains and The Book of Small.

Emily Carr brought Canadian art to a new level, and delighted Canadians with her writing. She is commemorated by a plaque at Emily Carr House National Historic Site of Canada in Victoria, BC. Her work can be seen in art galleries and collections across the country.

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