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Artists as Writers

Artist Biography

(Photo of Emily Carr from University of Victoria)

CARR, Emily (1871 - 1945)

Areas of Expertise

Painting, Landscapes


Emily Carr was born in Victoria, British Columbia, and moved to San Francisco in 1890 to study art after the death of her parents. In 1899 she travelled to England to deepen her studies, where she spent time at the Westminster School of Art in London and at various studio schools in Cornwall, Bushey, Hertfordshire, and elsewhere. In 1910, she spent a year studying art at the Académie Colarossi in Paris and elsewhere in France before moving back to British Columbia permanently the following year.

Carr was most heavily influenced by the landscape and First Nations cultures of British Columbia, and Alaska. Having visited a mission school beside the Nuu-chah-nulth community of Ucluelet in 1898, in 1908 she was inspired by a visit to Skagway and began to paint the totem poles of the coastal Kwakwaka’wakw, Haida, Tsimshian, Tlingit and other communities, in an attempt to record and learn from as many as possible. In 1913 she was obliged by financial considerations to return permanently to Victoria after a few years in Vancouver, both of which towns were, at that time, artistically conservative. Influenced by styles such as postimpressionism and Fauvism, her work was alien to those around her and remained unknown to and unrecognized by the greater art world for many years. For more than a decade she worked as a potter, dog breeder and boarding house landlady, having given up on her artistic career.

In the 1920s she came into contact with members of the Group of Seven (artists) after being invited by the National Gallery of Canada to participate in an exhibition of Canadian West Coast Art, Native and Modern. She travelled to Ontario for this show in 1927 where she met members of the Group, including Lawren Harris, whose support was invaluable. She was invited to submit her works for inclusion in a Group of Seven exhibition, the beginning of her long and valuable association with the Group. They named her 'The Mother of Modern Arts' around five years later.

Carr experimented with many styles throughout her lengthy career, and her art approximates trends in the development of modernism in the first half of the twentieth century. She may have been influenced by Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism and Abstraction, but she never took any movement to its extreme conclusion, though she was always seen as a radical in conservative British Columbia. Despite changes in her style, approach and intent, she remained absorbed by two principal and often overlapping themes: the "disappearing" First Nations cultures and the western landscape. She is perhaps best known for the work she produced in the last decade of her life — dark and rhythmic forests, vast spiritual skies and monumental totemic structures — when she developed a style that was entirely her own.

© Above biography from Art History Archive and Vancouver Art Gallery's very comprehensive resource about Carr

Online Resources

Emily Carr: At Home and At Work - A Compendium of the Life & Work of Emily Carr, Canadian Artist and Author.  B.C. Heritage website ith comprehensive information regarding Carr's personal and professional life, encompassing both written and artistic works. 

View hundreds of digitized images of Carr's pottery, sketches, drawings, illustrations, and paintings which includes some archival, unpublished materials found in the B.C. Archives Collection (808 digitized items), Vancouver Art Gallery Collection (206 digitized items), Art Gallery of Greater Victoria Collection, Carr House Collection, and other collections.

Emily Carr Connections - a website with a lot of information about Carr the artist, writer, "character," her artworks, online exhibitions and resources.