Carr in EnglandEmily Carr was both artist and writer. Something I didn’t know: she took a writing course at Victoria College in the summer of 1934.* Bed-ridden by illness, she wrote towards publication from 1937 onwards. Short stories based on her visits to Native villages were gathered as Klee Wyck (1941). The Book of Small (1942) was about her Victoria childhood and family. Then came The House of All Sorts (1944), which drew on her tales of being a landlady and breeder of sheepdogs. Of interest to Canadian Writers Abroad, however, is the book that she worked on during the Second World War, and which was published, at her request, after her death: Growing Pains, about her time studying art in San Francisco and England. She died in 1945 and the book was published first by Oxford University Press in 1946 and again by Douglas & McIntyre in 2005. But I haven’t read Growing Pains. I’ve read the charming Emily Carr in England by Kathryn Bridge (Royal BC Museum 2014), which draws on the 2005 edition of Growing Pains.

Kathryn Bridge supplements this source with archival material, including four sketchbooks and some “funny books” that Carr drew and wrote about her classmates and roommates (A London Student Sojourn, The Olsson Student, for example). Some of these sketches are reproduced in Emily Carr in England, which gives a picture not only of Carr’s life in England from 1899 to 1904 but also of her early talents. On this point, however, Bridge is clear: Carr kept none of her work produced as a student. The sketches were for fun. Less fun, perhaps, is the sketchbook held at the McMichael Canadian Collection, Pause (published 1953), about her 15-month stay at the East Anglian Sanatorium — not for TB (of which her brother died) but for exhaustion or an illness that left her so weak as to require convalescence.

What astonishes me about Bridge’s book is the detail, how much information is available about Carr, including who she spent time with, lived with, what classes she took, even who her teachers were. Perhaps I find it astonishing given how little we know about the life of Carr’s contemporary, Sara Jeannette Duncan. Bridge is even able to match fictitious names from the sketch books to real people. She takes these pains in order to place Emily Carr in context: that she was studying with artists influenced by art movements in Paris, and that she was not as isolated as she made out in her book Growing Pains. And that at least two of her teachers, Talmage and Whiteley, had lasting influence on her work and career.

Carr enrolled in the Westminster School of Art, which was then housed in the Royal Architectural Museum on Tufton Street (it moved in 1904). She eventually settled into a boarding house where she had a cubicle, not a room, in a house owned by Mary and Albert Dodd, at 4 Bulstrode Street. The amusing sketches reproduced reveal in verse such things as quarrels over an open window and the cozy “gossip and chatter, the noise and the clatter.”

Bulstrode Street today.  #4 is missing (see glass building)

Bulstrode Street today.
#4 is missing (see glass building)

Carr didn’t like London, however, and when school was out in the summer of 1900, she enrolled in a sketching class at Boxford in West Berkshire, and then visited friends in Scotland. In the spring of 1901, she visited a friend in Dorking, and went on a trip to Paris to visit galleries with a Miss Livingstone. After Paris, she avoided London by choosing to study at the studio of John W. Whiteley, in Bushey (NW of London), until the end of June 1901. She returned in 1902 for more of this outdoor work.

In early August 1901, Emily Carr and her sister Alice, here for a holiday, travelled to Cornwall, to St Ives, already “renowned by artists for its unique light and for the quality of art instruction there.” (Bridge p. 97) Carr stayed at the Temperance Hotel on Tregenna Place until Christmas, when she switched to lodgings at the Curnows on St Andrews Street. She studied, again outdoors, with Julius Olsson and Algernon Talmage, whose school was the Cornish School of Landscape and Sea Painting (Bridge p. 99).

Health issues caused her some conflicts with Olsson. Soon after her arrival in England she’d had a toe amputated, which did not heal properly. As a result, she worked sitting down at her easel, whereas students were expected to stand. As well, the glare from the sea and whitewashed buildings gave her migraines, and she preferred to escape up into the hills and the shady woods. (103)  With her friend Hilda Fearon, they hired fisher children as models to sketch in the evenings (107). In mid-winter 1902 she was back in Westminster, and by spring back in Bushey. And then by June 1902, she was ill. At first friends looked after her, then her sister Lizzie arrived to find her appropriate accommodations (and to indulge in tourism). And that is how Carr’s stay in England ended in a sanatorium, where patients were obliged to eat to gain weight, and she was obliged to abandon her art as part of her cure.

A favourite subject of the students: the white Sloop Inn.

A favourite subject of the students: the white Sloop Inn.

Chilling is the discharge note: “Hysteria. Came 12.1.03 went 17.3.04. Result Cured.” (144) Was she? Carr wrote of her time post-sanatorium time in Bushey: “Every thing in me dormant. Then when all the ambition & work had been smothered out of me I was allowed to return to work… After one week utterly exhausted from tears I plunged — I got a book and in it wrote and illustrated a ridiculous skit on the San Treatment. … Anyhow it served the purpose of bringing me back to work & filling in the ghastly two weeks before Mr Whiteley’s studio re-opened.” (144-145) She left England late in July 1904 to return to BC.

This difficult end to her English sojourn did not discourage Carr from further study abroad, keen as she was to learn the new. According to the Oxford Companion, and The Canadian Encyclopedia, she studied modernist art in Paris from 1910-11 and hung two works in the Paris Salon d’Automne 1911. Carr also studied with Frances Hodgkins in Brittany.

In A London Student Sojourn, Carr writes of her friend Kendall/Kindal and winter on Bulstrode Street:
“Oh, hurry up, good Carr,
Because it’s freezing cold,
My nose is all the colours
From blue and red to gold.”
So the little stove is lighted,
And the iron upon it set:
She cuddles it till warm and cosy,
And till her nose is much less rosy:
And then I seize it with delight,
And go to sleep hugging it tight.
(Emily Carr in England p. 52)


* from The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature (2nd edition), William Toye and Eugene Benson, OUP 1997, online (by public library) 2006.


Posted by Debra Martens

author, editor


  1. Gabriella Goliger January 19, 2015 at 20:52

    I read Klee Wyck, then Growing Pains, eons ago when I was in high school and fell in love with Emily Carr for her writing. Her painting was secondary to me. It was her inimitable writing style, the stories she painted with words, that grabbed and shook me. Growing Pains was so intimate and conveyed her gentle, rebellious, iron-strong character so beautifully. Plus I was going through my own growing pains. I highly recommend the book (very readable). Thanks for the great article on Emily’s time in London. I’m in Emily land right now — living a few blocks from the cemetery in which she’s buried. It’s a place of pilgrimage for many. There are paint brushes and other mementos left on her headstone.


    1. Hey, how about a photo of that gravestone?


  2. barbarasibbald January 17, 2015 at 13:10

    I saw a lot of the material you mention, including her humorous sketches and “graphic novels” of her friends and encounters, at a 2006 exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada
    Thanks for supplementing my knowledge, Debra. I’m going to read Growing Pains.


  3. This is fascinating; thanks, Debra. I have read the three Victoria books, but didn’t know about Growing Pains, which now I will run out and find. Seems like I should also read Bridge’s book… not that I am in any way a Carr scholar, but I find her almost as fascinating as Sara Jeannette Duncan (albeit for completely different reasons!).


    1. What I find fascinating is that Carr and Duncan were contemporaries, but they don’t seem like it. I wonder if this is because of their work or that we know more about Carr’s life and influences.


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