Is she is or is she not an Emily?

Unattributed "Emily Carr" watercolour before conservation treatment, with window matte removed showing adhesive residue and fragments from first and second window matting

 

His intention was to buy a lottery ticket. But, en route he popped into the local thrift store for a quick looksee and decided to buy a print instead. Once home, he unframed it for a closer look and discovered that he may have hit the jackpot after all. The “print” was an original watercolour, and a peek under the window matte revealed a signature that looked an awful lot like “M Emily Carr.”

Unattributed "Emily Carr" watercolour

Unattributed “Emily Carr” watercolour before conservation treatment, with window matte removed showing adhesive residue and fragments from first and second window matting
 After conservation treatment
After conservation treatment

Enter art appraiser Kathleen Laverty. She thought that the client may well have found an early Emily Carr, and set out to see what she could find. First, she researched the image itself. Through the magic of Google, she actually found a photo of a Vancouver Island lake that showed a vista very similar to the one in the painting. It was of Cameron Lake, near Port Alberni. Next, the signature.

She at first thought that the new owner had skinned part of it off when he peeled back the window matte. Closer examination proved the client to be innocent. The signature had been skinned, but it was an earlier framer who had committed the crime.

Enter me, paper conservator Rebecca Pavitt. My task was to remove the matting to reveal the edges and the reverse of the painting. As it appeared to me, the painting was glued overall to a paperboard backing, and a window matte was glued to the edges of the art. It had had a double thickness window mat, and the top mat had been removed by the owner.

I thinned the remaining matte, softened the adhesive with humidity, and slowly peeled it away. Adhesive and paper residue on the edges of the artwork (which were not related to the present matting removal) showed that the watercolour had been mounted and framed at least twice, and that an earlier matting removal had skinned and torn the edges of the artwork.

Although no inscriptions were found on the reverse of the painting, backing and window mat removal did allow a watermark in the paper to be read when held up to a bright light. All of the lettering is not clear, but it does include the word “England”. Finding an identical watermark on a known Carr painting would be another point in favour of authenticating the watercolour, but to date, Kathleen has not been able to access collections that contain early Carrs for a close comparison of painting style and paper types.

Various authorities who have viewed the painting have been unable to say that it is a work by Carr; nor have they been able to say that it is not. The jury is still out. The client will need to wait for further research findings to know if he did indeed pick a lucky number that day and make the find of a lifetime.