Emily Carr

Forest Light, British Columbia, 1935

oil on paper
34x22 in.

Dominion Gallery, Montreal;
Mayberry Fine Art;
Private collection

“For Emily Carr, trees were animate beings, exemplary in their vitality and drive.”1 She felt akin to them, saw their need, as living things, to grow in their own ways, according to their own kind. She
herself had struggled to do this her whole life. Only in the last years of her practice was she given any accolades, and by that time, had found other ways to assure herself that she was doing something of
value, and distained, for the most part, the attention she was given. Her published writings, her journal keeping, and above all, her art, was her growth, and her life was lived according to her own terms.

In her oil on paper studies of trees from the 1930s, we can see that her interest is in their life force. She renders not just the patterns of trunks, the sway and weight of boughs, the arc and line
of limbs as they strain for the sky, but the life force within them that creates these patterns, the arcs, this strain. “Listen,” she wrote in her journal, “this perhaps is the way to find that thing I long for:
go into the woods alone and look at the earth crowded with growth, new and old bursting from their strong roots hidden in the silent, live ground, each seed according to its own kind expanding, bursting, pushing its way upward towards the light and air, each one knowing what to do, each demanding its
on rights on earth.”2 In the delicate and light filled glade at the centre of Forest Light, British Columbia, we see a young tree asserting its rights, growing, soft and supple, straining at the light that falls on it. It’s bright, new green is a marked contrast to the silvery dead trunk to the right and the other darker tress behind
it. The forest floor at the young tree’s feet is pooled with light, and all seems still, almost reverent, in the space around this young tree. The mossy feature – a rock or stump – in the lower left corner is
near to us, a feature behind which we can keep a respectful distance while witnessing the tree, caught in a moment of sanctity, and bathed in forest light.

1. Sarah Milroy and Ian Desjardin, editors. From the Forest to the Sea: Emily Carr in British Columbia. Goose Lane, 2015, p. 223
2. Ibid


Emily Carr spent most of her life on Vancouver Island, but she also studied for three years at the California School of Design in San Francisco (1890-1893), for five years at the Westminster School of Art in London, England (1899-1904), where she also attended sketching classes at St. Ives in…