Pictures should be inspired by nature, but made in the soul of the artist, it is the soul of the individual that counts. Emily Carr, 1912
This article features Emily Carrs painting, Arbutus Tree, a landscape with a prominent image of a sculptural tree on a promontory overlooking the ocean with blue skies and pink-toned billowing clouds. Arbutus Tree is signed by the artist and painted circa 1913-1920. The vibrant French Fauvist colours of this coastal landscape reflect the influence of her European training and speaks of an experienced, developing artist.
, Arbutus Tree
(circa 1913-1920), oil on canvas
Reverse side of Arbutus Tree
Conservation treatment revealed a portrait by Emily Carr, circa 1890-1893
On the verso side of this landscape was a painted over image, making it a double-sided painting. Sweeping applications of thin and thick black colour were used to randomly cover the portrait, leaving the nose and lips of the underlying portrait slightly discernable. The portrait was painted first, and after a time the artwork was detached from its stretcher, turned over, re-stretched and the landscape painted. The painting was recently sold at a Toronto auction, after hanging for decades on the wall of a cottage in Quebec.The owners were unaware of the obscured painting on the back until the auctioneer, David Heffel, brought it to their attention.
Conservation expertise includes creating custom solutions and materials, such as gels, for the controlled cleaning and treatment of an artwork. Gels resemble a clear, thickened jelly substance that may include a solvent, detergent or other materials. Carefully using small swabs and magnification, the black overpaint was thinned away from the original paint layers of the portrait and slowly, a nose appeared, and then fleshy tones developed into a face. Familiar brushstrokes and rhythmic patterns used in the shaping of the face and the rest of the painting reflect the expressive qualities found in Emily Carrs future artwork. As the image emerged, I savoured being the first to view this portrait in over a century.
This painted image is believed to be the earliest of Emily Carrs portraits in oil paint, circa 1890-1893 and painted when she was about 22 years old. The uncovered painting is of a young woman with dark hair, wearing a soft cream-coloured cloak, and gazing upward with hands clasped together as if in prayer. The identity of the young woman has created some debate as to whether it is an early self-portrait, or perhaps Emilys sister, Elizabeth. A confirmed identity of the young woman remains a mystery.
This double-sided artwork offers a unique opportunity to compare two different periods in Emily Carrs artistic history.