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Emily Carr artworks feature in upcoming auction

One painting is closely related to Carr’s “War Canoes” piece in the Audain Museum

Heffel Fine Art Auction House is putting together a top-flight showcase of Canadian art that will soon go up for bidding in Toronto. A host of nationally-respected names are in the mix, including Jean Paul Riopelle, Alex Colville, Lawren Harris and Tom Thomson in addition to standouts from British Columbia like Emily Carr, B.C. Binning, E.J. Hughes, Gordon Smith and Takao Tanabe.

Sea to Sky art aficionados may be particularly interested in Carr’s work. 

War Canoes, Alert Bay is the watercolour precursor to an oil on canvas piece of the same name that graces the Audain Art Museum. Measuring 37.5 centimetres tall and 49.5 wide, it was created in 1908 after Carr drew inspiration from visiting Alert Bay on Cormorant Island. The titular canoes represent beloved possessions of the village’s First Nations residents that also acted as symbols of wealth. 

Heffel’s spring 2024 catalogue notes that War Canoes, Alert Bay helps provide a vital record of Kwakwaka’wakw Aboriginal culture and marks Carr’s emergence as a distinct voice in Canadian painting. It was this and other experiences in First Nations settlements that inspired Carr to study Fauvism—with its aggressive use of non-naturalistic colour—which in turn spawned the War Canoes canvas in the Audain. 

“Our watercolour has been included in every major exhibition of the artist's work,” says Lauren Kratzer, Heffel’s National Director of Consignments. “The back of this painting almost serves as an international passport with all the labels and stickers [it’s accumulated] traveling around the world. It was actually on display in Whistler during the Fresh Seeing exhibition around 2019 and 2020.” 

Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky is another Carr offering in Heffel’s lineup. The 87.6 by 59.7-centimetre oil painting was made in 1935, and much of what we know about it derives from the artist’s own eloquent writing. 

“I think there are very few artists that can truly capture the landscape of B.C. like Emily Carr—perhaps Hughes, Tanabe or Binning,” Kratzer opines. “I think you need to be able to smell the ocean, to be in the forest, to feel the Sea to Sky air, to truly capture its spirit. That's what we really get to see in Emily's work.

“We're lucky to have her journals that describe how it felt being in that landscape, and it was this joyous meditation to be outdoors. You can only truly capture that if you've really experienced it and felt it in the way that she did.” 

A pioneering artist

She may not have grown up in Whistler, Pemberton or Squamish, but Carr embodied the essence of Sea to Sky adventure during her eclectic life. 

The Victoria native was the second youngest in a family of nine children and received education in public schools rather than the private finishing institutions viewed as proper for middle-class girls of the day. Her travels took her to California, England, France and beyond—though Canada’s First Nations people consistently offered a key source of inspiration.

Carr once struggled to earn critical acclaim, but became affiliated with the famous Group of Seven (of which Harris was a part) and it’s safe to say that her portfolio is widely accepted now. 

“Emily was a pioneer in every sense of the word,” remarks Kratzer. “Some of these expeditions that she took, either by herself or with a family member, would be extraordinary even in this present day—and that really translates to her painting. This pioneering spirit in how she was able to trailblaze the Canadian art world at a time when very few female painters were able to accomplish that, let alone an artist from the far West Coast of Canada.” 

Learn more about the upcoming May 23 auction at