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Self-portrait, 1938-1939

Emily Carr
Canadian, 1871 - 1945
oil on wove paper, mounted on plywood
85.5 x 57.7 cm
Gift of Peter Bronfman, 1990
National Gallery of Canada (no. 30755)

This rare self-portrait was made in the winter of 1938-39, around the time of Carr's sixty-seventh birthday. Although recently confronted with signs of aging - she suffered a heart attack in 1937 and got her first pair of prescription glasses - Carr does not shrink from these premonitions of physical decline, but instead presents here an image of indomitable strength. This is the stern glare with which she greeted all visitors who intruded on her precious painting time. "I hate painting portraits. I am embarrassed at what seems to me to be an impertinence and presumption, pulling into visibility what every soul has as much right to keep private as his liver and kidneys and lungs and things which are coated with flesh and hide. . . . The better a portrait, the more indecent and naked the sitter must feel. An artist who portrays flesh and clothes but nothing else, no matter how magnificently he does it, is quite harmless. A caricaturist who jests at his victim's expense does so to show off his (the artist's) own powers, not to portray the subject. To paint a self-portrait should teach one something about oneself. I shall try." - Emily Carr, 31 December 1940

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