Canada's History - - CURRENTS -

1930, Emily Carr, oil on can­vas, 92 cm x 129 cm

Emily Carr’s Van­quished was painted in 1930 as she moved into the phase of her ca­reer that pro­duced her best-known works and gained her rep­u­ta­tion as an iconic Bri­tish Columbia artist.

As early as a 1907 trip up the coast to Alaska, the Vic­to­ria-based artist was cap­ti­vated by In­dige­nous communities and their totemic art in the face of what she be­lieved would be their im­mi­nent demise — a view that was com­mon­place at the time and that may have seemed jus­ti­fied by cir­cum­stances that in­cluded the pot­latch ban and en­croach­ment on tra­di­tional lands.

In 1913, the year af­ter a sketch­ing trip dur­ing which she vis­ited communities along the Nass and Skeena rivers, as well as Alert Bay and Haida Gwaii, Carr ar­ranged a Van­cou­ver ex­hi­bi­tion of some two hun­dred works. But, find­ing lit­tle in­ter­est from ei­ther po­ten­tial pa­trons or the provin­cial government, which she had hoped would want the works doc­u­ment­ing First Na­tions art and life, Carr re­turned to Vic­to­ria and mostly stopped painting.

When a 1927 ex­hi­bi­tion in Ot­tawa in­cluded many of her ear­lier works, giv­ing her the chance to meet and be­friend Group of Seven mem­bers such as Lawren Har­ris, Carr was rein­vig­o­rated. Her at­ten­tion to land­scape and her train­ing in mod­ern tech­niques led Har­ris to tell her, “You are one of us.”

Van­quished mourns an aban­doned Haida Gwaii com­mu­nity and, like many other paint­ings Carr made over the fol­low­ing decade, ex­presses the vi­brancy and dy­namism of the Bri­tish Columbia land­scape it­self. — Phil Koch

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