Emily Carr painting, unseen for more than half a century, acquired by Canada’s Audain Art Museum

A 1940 oil painting by Emily Carr (1871-1945), which has not been on public display for nearly 60 years, was unveiled today by Michael Audain, chairman of the Audain Foundation, at a press conference in Vancouver. Audain and his wife Yoshiko Karasawa provided the funds for the painting, Survival, to be acquired by the Audain Art Museum in Whistler, British Columbia. It was purchased via a private sale from a collector in Thailand, where Audain owns a home. It will enter the museum’s permanent collection and can be exhibited there from next month.

“I was drawn to this important painting because of the subject matter, the late period of her oeuvre and its distinguished provenance,” Audain said. “I felt it was important for Yoshiko and I to donate the funds so that the Audain Art Museum could acquire this work because it definitely needed to be returned to the west coast of Canada.”

Curtis Collins, the museum’s director and chief curator, added, “Survival echoes Carr’s long-standing efforts to evoke human emotion through highly charged renderings of (British Columbia’s) forests.”

Survivalwas one of four Carr works shown in Canada’s debut at the 1952 Venice Biennale, thanks to her championing by Group of Seven painter Lawren Harris. That presentation also included the Carrs Indian Churchrenamed Church at Yuquot (1929), now at the Art Gallery of Ontario; and Blunden Harbour (1930) and Logged over Hillside (circa 1940), both now at the National Gallery of Canada. Survival was the only Carr work from the Biennale’s presentation still in private hands and had previously belonged to JE Coyne, the second governor of the Bank of Canada.

Organized seven years after Carr’s death, the Venice Biennale exhibition proved to be a posthumous triumph for an artist who was largely unrecognized during her lifetime. As curator Lisa Baldissera noted in her book Emily Carr: Life and Work: “This representation of Canada on the world stage of contemporary art was a defining moment in its understanding of itself as an industrializing modern nation. It was time for Canada to take its rightful place as an independent global entity that had separated from its role as a colony of Great Britain during two world wars. Emily Carr’s work in particular was chosen for its fusion of national identity with a new vision for landscape painting.”

The title of the painting—which shows a lone old-growth tree surrounded by logging debris, bent and broken but still defiant—is as much an expression of Carr’s prescient ecological concerns as it is a commentary on her own resilience. She faced poverty, antagonism from her family, and widespread indifference to her work during her lifetime, but has become one of Canada’s most famous and iconic artists. “It’s important for Canada to have cultural heroes,” said Audain, “and I’m glad that Emily Carr has become one of them.”

This acquisition increases the Audain Museum’s influence as one of the most important collections of Carr’s work, after the Royal BC Museum, which houses nearly 500 works and hundreds of archives, and the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG), home to one of the most significant Carr collections in the world.

At today’s conference, Audain announced future collaborations with VAG, whose director Anthony Kiendl was also present. Kiendl later told The art newspaper that there will be a dedicated Carr gallery and research center in the VAG’s new building – which breaks ground this spring, is expected to open in 2027, and to which the Audain Foundation has donated C$100m ($80m).

Audain also revealed that his namesake museum has acquired a 1928 work by Lawren Harris, Mountain sketchwhich will also be exhibited there next month.

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