1871 - 1945
South Bay, Skidegate
watercolour on paper, circa 1928
signed Emily Carr and on verso titled on the National Gallery of Canada and the T. Eaton Fine Art gallery labels and dated 1928 on the National Gallery of Canada label
22 x 29 in 55.9 x 73.7 cm
Estimate: $300,000 - $400,000
Sold for: $811,250
The Fine Art Galleries, T. Eaton Co. Ltd., Toronto, stock #2786
Central Guaranty Trust Company, Toronto
Sold sale of Canadian Art, Joyner Fine Art Inc., May 20, 1987, lot 139
Acquired from the above by a Private Collection, Calgary
Private Collection, Vancouver
Doris Shadbolt, The Art of Emily Carr, 1979, reproduced page 94 and the related canvas reproduced page 95, both works listed page 206
Doris Shadbolt, Emily Carr, National Gallery of Canada, 1990, reproduced page 108
Doris Shadbolt, The Sketchbooks of Emily Carr: Seven Journeys, 2002, the closely related sketch Village Landscape at South Bay reproduced page 70
Emily Carr, Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of Emily Carr, 1966, page 26 in 2006 edition
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Emily Carr, June 29 – September 3, 1990, catalogue #76
Audain Art Museum, Whistler, displayed with the permanent Emily Carr collection, on loan July 2019 - August 2020
In the summer of 1928, Emily Carr ventured to the remote Skeena and Nass River valleys and the islands of Haida Gwaii. Her enthusiasm to return to northern British Columbia after her previous major painting trip there in 1912 was rekindled by events that took place during the previous year. She had met members of the Group of Seven for the first time in the fall of 1927, after being invited to take part in the National Gallery of Canada’s Exhibition of Canadian West Coast Art—Native and Modern. Marius Barbeau was an ethnographer at the National Museum of Canada in Ottawa and provided the main impetus for the exhibition. He had seen examples of Carr’s totem pole paintings during his travels to First Nations villages in British Columbia and suggested that her work be included in the show.
Eric Brown, the director of the National Gallery, visited Carr’s studio in Victoria; he was impressed with her paintings and ensured their prominent placement in the exhibition. He was surprised to find out that Carr had never heard of the Group of Seven and made special arrangements for her to travel to Eastern Canada for the exhibition and to meet the members of the Group. Carr was awestruck after viewing the Group’s paintings for the first time at the Studio Building in Toronto and wrote in her journal:
Oh, these men, this Group of Seven, what have they created?—a world stripped of earthiness, shorn of fretting details, purged, purified; a naked soul, pure and unashamed; lovely spaces filled with wonderful serenity…..I think perhaps I shall find God here, the God I’ve longed and hunted for and failed to find. Always he’s seemed nearer out in the big spaces, sometimes almost within reach but never quite. Perhaps in this newer, wider, space-filled vision I shall find him.
Carr witnessed in the Group’s paintings a new way forward in interpreting the Canadian landscape, one that was filled with spirituality. Their paintings awoke something in Carr that was transformational. Upon her return to Victoria after the exhibition, she began painting in earnest again and started planning to return north on her first major painting trip in 16 years, at the age of 57.
South Bay, located on Moresby Island in Haida Gwaii, was the last stop for Carr in the summer of 1928. On August 11, 1928, she wrote a detailed letter to Brown and his wife while staying at South Bay, which vividly describes the many adventures she had during her trip. While the traveling conditions were often difficult, she managed to bring back to Victoria many rough sketches and approximately 30 large watercolour paintings, which were important sources of future inspiration. The majority of these paintings were included in the Emily Carr Trust at the time of her death and are now in the collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Carr used many of these watercolours as the basis of her iconic late modernist canvases, including such seminal works as Kitwancool Totems, Heina, Forsaken, Three Totems and Grizzly Bear Totem, Angidah, Nass River. South Bay, Skidegate is one of these important large watercolours. It was used as the basis of an exemplary modernist canvas that was purchased by Barbeau in 1928, and which he described in a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation interview in 1957. Barbeau noted, “When I visited her in 1928, that is the year after the exhibition in Ottawa, I saw canvases with just trees, surrounded by skirts of ballet girls, or virgins of the forest—densely green, but full of shapes and power. I couldn’t resist buying one of them.”
In South Bay, Skidegate we see the new emphasis Carr places on the importance of expressing the spirituality of the places she paints. Her focus has shifted from delineating the fine details of the scene to providing the wider vision she so admired in the Group’s work. The watercolour skilfully captures the power of nature’s dominant presence in Canada’s remote places. The small village of South Bay sits clinging precariously to the hillside clearing, tenuous in its existence. The houses are overshadowed by towering dark-green walls of forest. In this village hemmed in by the surrounding ocean, the only escape by land appears to be via a narrow wooden boardwalk hugging the shoreline, with a massive boulder standing as a sentinel. Enormous trees border the path, which are deftly sculpted and twisted with Carr’s bold brush-strokes. This is the raw and untameable wilderness of British Columbia that Carr loved and in which she found her God.
Estimate: $300,000 - $400,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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