1871 - 1945
Music in the Trees
oil on paper on board, circa 1935
signed Emily Carr and on verso titled Misic [sic] in the Trees on the Dominion Gallery label and inscribed with the Dominion Gallery inventory #D122
35 1/2 x 23 3/4 in, 90.2 x 60.3 cm
Estimate: $250,000 - $350,000
Sold for: $301,250
Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave
Dominion Gallery, Montreal
Acquired from the above by a Private Collection, April 29, 1960
By descent to the present Private Collection, Toronto
Doris Shadbolt, The Art of Emily Carr, 1979, page 144
Emily Carr, Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of Emily Carr, 2006, pages 179, 264, 265, 272 and 275
Music in the Trees is a superb example of Emily Carr’s 1930s inner forest subjects, suffused with light and richly pigmented. Her depiction of the trees is inventive in its use of stylized forms – the trunk of the left tree has the horizontal segmented structure that she sometimes used from the mid-1930s on, and its foliage flows out in great sweeping layers. The right tree is topped by a conical clump of green growth, highlighted with white marks. The foreground clearing, which appears to include a pool of water reflecting its surroundings, and a glimpse of turquoise sky through the tall trees bring a sense of spaciousness and light into the forest. The shapes in the centre are intriguing – the shadowy outlines are suggestive, but it is unclear what they represent.
In the mid-1930s, Carr was in contact with Group of Seven artist Lawren Harris, and she was aware of his movement into abstraction. Doris Shadbolt noted that “Carr found his work beautiful and deeply moving, and his ideas on the subject [of abstraction] tremendously interesting.” Harris advised her, “When, in your letter, you refer to ‘movement in space,’ that is abstract, try it…Take an idea, abstract its essence.” Possibly that is what she did here. In her work Forest Interior in Shafts of Light, circa 1935 – 1937, the shafts are abstracted in geometrical forms. Perhaps the central lines in Music in the Trees represent an idea, abstracted.
Carr loved music, and in her journals she related her joy at hearing a concert in Victoria by the Hart House String Quartet. In her journals, she often wrote about the natural sounds in the woods - their presence and their absence - such as she experienced while camping in the woods in her caravan The Elephant. She wrote, “I am circled by trees. They are full of chatter, the wind and the birds helping them. Through the sighing of the wind they tell their sorrows. Through the chortle of the birds they tell their joy.” In another entry she noted: “Colours are changing their places as in Musical Chairs to the tune of the rain,” and “Moss and ferns, and leaves and twigs, light and air, depth and colour chattering, dancing a mad joy-dance, but only apparently tied up in stillness and silence. You must be still in order to hear and see.” In Carr’s rich imagination, trees danced and the wind through the trees was music. Being in nature made her also think of poetry, such as Walt Whitman’s – which she wrote “sang in my heart.”
When Carr began using the medium of oil on paper in the 1930s, it was a liberating experience. The manila paper she used was light, inexpensive and easily transported, and thinning her oils with gasoline or turpentine made them as fluid as watercolour. Her brushwork became open and intuitive, expressing the energy she sensed in the landscape. In the mid-1930s, she camped at Esquimalt Lagoon in The Elephant. Immersed in the woods, she set up her easel and paused to take in the scene and choose what to depict – perceiving, as she wrote, that “there are themes everywhere, something sublime, something ridiculous, or joyous, or calm, or mysterious.” With sweeping brush-strokes she captured the rich growth she saw before her in swathes of pigment, such as in the extraordinary Music in the Trees.
From the clearing in the foreground and up through her “intimate friends, the trees,” there is an upward movement leading to the turquoise sky behind. The branches of the tree on the left roll and shimmy as if caught by a breeze, while the tree on the right is still, radiating its dense green. Carr varied her paint treatment, sometimes layering colour on thickly, such as in the tree trunks and the dark greens, sometimes using thin washes. It is an inventive work, replete with the effects that Carr discovered in her new use of the oil on paper medium.
Carr always felt the presence of the divine in nature, stating “Surely the woods are God’s tabernacle.” Music in the Woods uplifts us with its joyous expression of a forest that is very alive.
Estimate: $250,000 - $350,000
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