This watercolour pictures a carved eagle in profile on top of a totem pole. The blue sky behind the bird is fractured into flat geometric shapes. A few equally schematized trees appear at the lower right.

Emily Carr

(Victoria 1871 – Victoria 1945)


Big Eagle, Skidegate BC


Watercolour on paper

76.2 x 56.7 cm

Donated in memory of Dorothy Plaunt Dyde

Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 1980.034.001

Photo: Stephen Topfer

The watercolour Big Eagle, Skidegate BC pictures a carved wooden eagle topping a totem pole. The three-dimensional form of the carving contrasts with the flat geometric shapes that compose the sky. This duality makes the work at once abstract and figurative. The painting is based on sketches made by Emily Carr while visiting the Skidegate community in the Haida Gwaii archipelago, off the coast of British Columbia. Combining the landscape and Indigenous themes she favoured, Big Eagle, Skidegate BC offers a synthesis of her art. At the same time, it foretells the more geometric style she adopted in the early 1930s.

The art and life of Emily Carr are inextricably linked to Canada’s Pacific coast. Like many of her fellow artists, Carr was fascinated by the iconography and exoticism of Indigenous cultures. In 1912, she visited and painted First Nations villages in the coastal Northwest. The turning point in her career came in 1927, when her work was included with paintings by the Group of Seven in the The National Gallery of Canada exhibition West Coast Art: Native and Modern. This led her to meet the painter Lawren Harris, whose style and artistic vision decisively influenced her later work.


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