The first major solo exhibition in Europe dedicated to the Canadian Group of Seven artist Emily Carr (1871–1945) will take place in November at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Gathering together her paintings of the aboriginal settlements she encountered during her travels up the West Coast of Canada and her formidable landscapes and seascapes, the show exemplifies Carr’s life-long artistic evolution and the eventual discovery of a freedom in style that secured her position as one of Canada’s best loved artists. In challenging circumstances Carr’s success as both an artist and a celebrated author challenged the status quo with Georgia O’Keefe calling her a “darling of the women’s movement”.
A pioneer of modernism, fully aware of international movements in art such as Fauvism and Post-Impressionism, Carr was fascinated by the indigenous populations of British Columbia. She immersed herself in the people and landscape and drew upon both for inspiration and subject matter. From the Forest to the Sea: Emily Carr in British Columbia presents a focused selection of over 140 works and indigenous artefacts as well as the recently discovered illustrated journal, Sister and I in Alaska, in which Carr documented her pivotal 1907 trip up and down the Northwest Coast.
The exhibition follows a dramatic journey from darkness to light, beginning with Carr’s dark and rhythmic forest scenes including Totem and Forest, a large and dominating work, and culminates with the euphoric skyscapes and seascapes Carr painted towards the end of her career including Untitled (Seascape). Displayed for the first time are the ‘momentary records’ Carr left behind in her trunk with the desire for the world to see after she died, including View in Victoria Harbour. These compositional sketches show the rigour of her process and the determination Carr had not only in researching and documenting but also in practicing and developing her artistic style.
“Working on Canada’s West Coast in relative isolation, away from the wellsprings of European culture, Emily Carr’s determined progress as an artist, travelling halfway across the world to San Francisco, London and Paris to improve her considerable skills, makes for an inspiring story of driven creativity, against the odds” said Sackler Director and co-curator of the show Ian Dejardin. “Her passionate engagement with both Northwest Coast indigenous culture and European modernism produced a body of work that is unique, rooted in the forests and landscapes of British Columbia – powerful and evocative, her late images of shimmering sea, living forest and ecstatic skies are a pinnacle of Canadian landscape painting. Her story is one of extraordinary determination which we will bring in to view with this show. This exhibition will be a revelation to British and Canadian audiences alike.”
Linking Carr’s paintings will be an intimate look at the artist’s explorations of the aboriginal coastal communities bringing together a carefully selected sampling of previously unseen writings and over 30 indigenous objects which follow a parallel trajectory from winter ritual to summer activity. The display includes masks, baskets and ceremonial objects by Haida, Kwakwaka’wakw, Nuu-chah-nulth, Salish, Tsimshian and Tlingit makers as well as objects on loan from the Murderme collection and Horniman Museum and Gardens.
Building on the success of Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven at Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2011, this show will focus on Carr’s equally distinctive vision of Canada. Her encounter with the Group of Seven in 1927 validated her work, with Lawren Harris telling Carr, until then unappreciated as an artist, “you are one of us.” With Harris’s encouragement and having witnessed the boldness of vision of the Group of Seven artists, Carr was determined to infuse her rendering of the natural world with equivalent power, emotion and spirituality and she began to explore her own profound feelings for the landscape of British Columbia – its deep rainforests and vast skyscapes. She painted Totem and Forestwhich, unlike her earlier paintings, becomes more abstract and stylized, and Indian Church, painted during the most prolific period of Carr’s career and distinctly cubist in its simplification of form.
The exhibition is curated by Ian Dejardin, Sackler Director of Dulwich Picture Gallery, and Sarah Milroy, an art critic and writer based in Toronto. Ian Dejardin has presided over a varied and international exhibition programme and has continued to curate exhibitions, most recently Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. Sarah Milroy has served as editor/publisher of Canadian Art magazine and as chief Art Critic of The Globe and Mail, Canada’s leading national newspaper. A frequent contributor to a range of periodicals and scholarly catalogues, she is one of Canada’s most respected commentators on art.
From the Forest to the Sea: Emily Carr in British Columbia has been organised by Dulwich Picture Gallery and the Art Gallery of Ontario with the generous collaboration of the National Gallery of Canada, Vancouver Art Gallery and the Royal BC Museum, BC Archives.
From the Forest to the Sea: Emily Carr in British Columbia 1 November 2014 – 8 March 2015 Dulwich Picture Gallery