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