Emily Carr fans will likely be fairly familiar with the Audain Art Museum’s extensive collection of the artist’s work.
However, the newest addition to that collection might not be as recognizable.
On Wednesday (Dec. 13), the museum’s newest acquirement, entitled Le Paysage, will be hung from its walls, where it will remain a part of the institution’s permanent display. This marks the first time the piece will be available for public viewing in nearly 28 years.
The celebrated British Columbian artist painted the picture in 1911 while studying in Brittany, France, making it an incredibly significant addition to the museum’s collection, said Darrin Martens, the Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky chief curator at the museum.
“We are tickled pink,” he said. “Having this work is, first and foremost, of national importance because it is one of only two works of art (by Carr) that were submitted to the Salon d’Automne in 1911 in Paris.”
Held at the Grand Palais, the Salon d’Automne is an annual art exhibition that has taken place since 1903. During its initial display, Carr’s Le Paysage hung alongside work by artists like Matisse and Picasso as part of the exhibition. The second painting, Autumn in France, has been part of the National Gallery of Canada’s collection since 1948.
“This was a critically important time for the artist because she specifically went to Paris to learn about and see what is this new art that (was) being created,” Martens said. “The breakthrough she achieved in Paris and in the rural countryside was discovering how she could use colour, for her, in new and innovative ways. If one looks at the trajectory of the artist, she was very much part of the British tradition of painting, whether that was watercolour or oils, leading up to 1910, 1911 — very much a documentary style. In 1910, (19)11 and (19)12, when she’s travelling in Paris and in London, this changed everything for her.”
Despite its significance, the painting has, largely, been part of private collections and kept away from the general public throughout its existence. The last time it was publicly exhibited was at the National Gallery in 1990.
The Whistler art museum was approached by a private collector interested in selling the piece, explained museum founder Michael Audain.
“It only fairly recently came to my attention, actually,” Audain said. “It was something I’ve been looking for for a long time. The museum was approached by the owner, who was, because of the value of it, concerned about continuing to accommodate it in his home.”
To that end, Audain’s family foundation put up just under $1 million for the museum to acquire the picture.
“It’s amazing that it’s ending up in a collection in the mountain resort of Whistler, which is great news, I think, both for the people of Whistler but also for the public of British Columbia,” Audain said. “Those people who are interested in the journey of Emily Carr, the saga of Emily Carr, will have an opportunity to see this painting that was actually judged sufficiently worthy in 1911 to be hung on the wall of the Salon together with pictures by the leading artists of the day, which says something about Emily Carr’s confidence as an artist, even before she started her most important work depicting the First Nations villages of British Columbia and then later… of the West Coast forests.”
The piece is also serving as a catalyst for an upcoming exhibit. Martens is currently working to develop the museum’s first exhibition of Carr’s French work, set to take place in 2019. The period “so influenced her later development to become Canada’s best known artist,” explained the museum in a release.