Nicolas Debon’s Four Pictures by Emily Carr (2003)

There are a number of ways in which one can get to know Emily Carr.

Groundwood Books – House of Anansi, 2003

First, for the bookish, via her own writing.

Klee Wick (1941), The Book of Small (1942), The House of All Sorts (1944), and, published posthumously, Growing Pains (1946), Pause (1953), The Heart of a Peacock (1953), and Hundreds and Thousands (1966).

(And, for the determinedly bookish, add to those titles an assortment of books about her, like Doris Shadbolt’s classic work or Maria Tippett’s biography or Susan Vreeland’s novel The Forest Lover.)

Next, through her art, perhaps via the National Gallery of Canada or the Art Gallery of Ontario, either on foot or online.

Or the Vancouver Art Gallery has a dedicated site with biographical information and an extensive gallery.

If you are near Victoria, British Columbia, you can even visit her family home. (Complete with cats.)

Or you could simply read Nicholas Debon’s Four Pictures by Emily Carr.

Building upon the theory that there are four distinct phases in the artist’s work, Debon has selected four works as representative of these stages, each followed by a few pages of comics about the artist’s experiences at that time.

Cedar House

When she was twenty-seven, Emily first travelled to a remote aboriginal village on Vancouver Island’s coast, in Ucluelet. The boat captain in the panels represents the typical prejudiced perspective: “All you’re find here is a bunch of miserable people…too much drinking, no work and plenty of sickness.” But she continued to observe and paint and returned to this source inspiration throughout her life as an artist.

Autumn in France

Although she studied in Victoria, San Francisco and London, when she travelled to Paris, she met Harry Gibb, who introduces her to a Paris “bursting with talented artists from all over Europe: Spanish, Italians, Germans, Russians…who have decided that they are finished with traditional art”. When he takes her to a friend’s gallery, she discovers Matisse, Braque, Modiglianai, Picasso, Cézanne, Léger, Chagall and Duchamp.


She is invited to contribute to an exhibition at the National Gallery in Ottawa and, shortly afterwards, travels to Toronto, where she speaks with members of the Group of Seven, most notably Lawren Harris, who invites her to the Severn Building to discuss his belief in “a universal sense of order, unity and proportion in everything around us” which profoundly inspires Emily Carr.

Beloved of the Sky

“In her mid-fifties, she now no longer felt alone in her artistic and spiritual quest and, despite failing health, she embarked on a period of extraordinary creativity.” Travelling in her “elephant” (her trailer), she immersed herself in the “soothing, eternal beauty of Mother Nature”.

In the author’s note about these four segments, Nicolas Debon explains that he relied on The Collected Writings of Emily Carr, amongst other books (he adds Paula Blanchard’s The Life of Emily Carr, which I do not have on my shelves) and based the dialogue and events in this volume on fact, but admits that he had to invent in a few instances.

What is clear for any viewer, whether experienced or introduced to Emily Carr for the first time with this volume, is the sense of expansiveness as the pages turn.

At first, in the first three segments actually, the artist appears in small images, bordered panels with tidy printing.

Near the end of the volume, however, Emily Carr’s creative vision spills forth; she is somehow both smaller and larger at the same time, smaller amidst all those beautiful trees that she painted and larger for her conviction.

Four Pictures by Emily Carr is a concise introduction, and if Nicolas Debon’s intent is to whet the reader’s and viewer’s appetite for more, it is a resounding success.

Project Notes: 
Day 41 of 45:
There’s another new theme today, the last for this project? I think you’ll guess it, but maybe that depends what you’ve been drinking with your eggnog this season. (Shh, don’t tell, I’ll ask you another time.) Hope you’re enjoying your holidays!



  1. Brenda June 8, 2013 at 4:36 pm - Reply

    Hi all soul friends of Emily Carr. I was introduced to Emily when I visited my friend, Judi, in Victoria many years ago now. I had never even heard of Her before that but she spoke to me in some mysterious way and after I came home to Ireland I introduced her to my friends here. I gave one friend ‘a loan’ of Hundreds and Thousands, one of my most treasured books, given to me as a parting gift as I left Canada. It never came back to me and I tried many times to get another copy. I eventually got it through Amazon and this time I refuse to share it!! Why does Emily speak so hauntingly to me? I think it has something to do with truth…she was so utterly true to her own deepest self at every stage of her life. And she tapped into the deep core of truth in everyone and everything. Truth oozes out of her writings and her paintings. Would love to return to Victoria and explore her word further. B

    • Buried In Print June 26, 2013 at 1:12 pm - Reply

      Thanks so much for leaving your comment, Brenda. And I’m so glad to hear that you’ve managed to replace your copy of H&Ts (even though it won’t be quite the same, I’m sure). There is something enchanting about her work, I agree. And it’s nice to think that there are young readers still being introduced to her work via works like Nicolas Debon’s.

  2. Buried In Print March 6, 2013 at 2:05 pm - Reply

    Whispering Gums – Let me know if you are looking for company in reading it. I’ve had my copy for that long as well, and once read a few chapters but then lost track again. Still, I want to make time… (Somehow your link never did come through, but I’ve added it.)

    Melwyk – Hope you can find a copy in your corner of the woods. I think you will enjoy it, especially the way he combines the story in panels with other text and illustrations.

    Shivanee – Right backatcha Shivanee. That would make for a lovely gift for your mom for sure. (I’ll have to have a look for that Vreeland novel too.) And I sniff a new reading project in the wind…have you begun seeking out any of her writings yet? It really would make for a great project… *sly grin

  3. Shivanee @ Novel Niche January 8, 2013 at 11:08 pm - Reply

    Merry 2013 to you, Madame BIP! (I owe you an email, so one will be forthcoming pre mid-January!)

    My mother is enamoured of (enamoured with? hmm) Emily Carr. The aforementioned The Forest Lover by Vreeland is one of her favourite fictive historical imaginings of any person, living or dead, local or foreign. Mummy grew up with Emily Carr’s art fascinating her imagination, inspiring her to create, to experience everything deeply. This year, I feel committed to bringing as much of Carr’s publications to her as I can. This seems a beautiful primer for those uninitiated into an abiding love of Carr, but I feel my mum would love it all the same.

    Seven volumes of Carr’s own writing, on the other hand, seem like seven perfect presents to give, all at once, perhaps bound up in twine, for a birthday or an “I appreciate you intensely” day. I think this line of your review: “Near the end of the volume, however, Emily Carr’s creative vision spills forth; she is somehow both smaller and larger at the same time, smaller amidst all those beautiful trees that she painted and larger for her conviction.” — that convinces me more and more that I should be a Carr devotee myself. So maybe this book is the perfect place for me to begin.

  4. Melwyk December 30, 2012 at 8:18 pm - Reply

    I love Emily Carr and have approached her through her own writing, and her art… though I haven’t seen this book. Too lovely! Will be checking this one out soon.

  5. Whispering Gums December 29, 2012 at 5:08 pm - Reply

    I hate the fact that when I comment via my iPad it refuses to recognise me and link my name to my blog even though I type the URL into the website box … But if I comment via my laptop it knows who I am and links without my having to even try typing in my URL. Maddening.

  6. Whispering Gums December 29, 2012 at 5:06 pm - Reply

    I have had Klee Wyck in my TBR for the longest time … Nearly 20 years. Really must get to it.

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