LOT 115

1871 - 1945

Tree Trunk
oil on paper on canvas, circa 1935
signed and on verso stamped Dominion Gallery Montreal on a label
17 3/4 x 12 in, 45.1 x 30.5 cm

Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000 CAD

Sold for: $181,250

Preview at:

Estate of the Artist
Dominion Gallery, Montreal
Private Collection, Victoria

Emily Carr’s engagement with the landscapes of British Columbia was the defining element of the last half of her career. While she occasionally returned to Indigenous subjects in her later work, most of her work from the 1930s and ’40s depicts the landscape of her native province—a subject she both loved and admired.

Carr’s oil on paper sketches of the 1930s demonstrate her intense and vivid interaction with the landscapes of British Columbia. Carr was deeply involved in experiencing and depicting especially the coastal forests. Her decision to employ oil on paper as the primary medium to depict this landscape reflects her conviction that the forest needed to be rendered closely and directly. For Carr, direct, personal “communion” with her subjects was critical to achieving the truth and intensity she wanted. Inexpensive, portable and easily worked, oil on paper became Carr’s primary sketching method for the latter part of her career.

The oil on paper works were initially conceived of as preparatory works for canvases, but Carr quickly realized that these images had value in and of themselves. While there are many examples of oil on paper sketches that serve as sketches for canvases, there are far more oil on paper works that stand on their own.

Tree Trunk is a boldly independent image. It reflects Carr’s deep engagement with the BC rainforest landscape. What is striking about this image is that it appears to depict a dead rather than a living tree trunk. The vividly coloured foreground soil suggests that the area immediately around this bare tree trunk may have been ravaged by fire. The death of this massive tree is suggested by the striking contrast between the bare trunk and branches and the richly foliated trees in the background. Carr’s decision to abruptly truncate the upper section of the main trunk and place an area of black immediately below the trunk further suggest that the main tree trunk is dead. The vivid greens of the background also emphasize the lifelessness of the central tree rendered in browns, blacks and grey white.

Why would Carr depict a massive dead tree? This is surely an example of Carr’s somewhat oblique relationship with the logging industry of BC—something which is also seen in her canvases Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky, 1931 (collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery) and Odds and Ends, 1939 (collection of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria). The tree in Tree Trunk has escaped the loggers but fallen victim to fire. This natural phenomenon was something to note. A tree goes through its life cycle free of human demands, and for Carr, this was something to celebrate.

Carr was perhaps the most acute observer of the forest landscape of her beloved British Columbia. Tree Trunk beautifully demonstrates that she was willing to consider all aspects of that landscape.

We thank Ian M. Thom, Senior Curator—Historical at the Vancouver Art Gallery from 1988 to 2018, for contributing the above essay.

Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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