Skip to main content
visual arts

A new discovery may solve a long-time romantic mystery surrounding the iconic Canadian painter Emily Carr.

"I've been loved furiously and not able to pay back, and I've loved furiously with cold response," Carr once wrote. But while tales of her persistent suitor are well documented, the identity of the heartbreaker has remained a mystery.

Until, maybe, now.

In preparation for a coming exhibition at Victoria's Royal BC Museum, curator Kathryn Bridge discovered two photos taken within minutes of each other at a tennis party, circa 1895. Both group shots depict an eyebrow-raising interaction between Carr and an unidentified gentleman.

In one photo, the man in question is gazing at Carr rather than looking at the camera. In another photo, the same man is leaning against her leg - very unusual behaviour for the time.

The photos have been kept in separate archives, but seeing them together for the first time piqued Bridge's curiosity. "I started putting the evidence together, evidence from her writings and the little clues, and I thought: Oh, maybe this is the guy."

Among the clues: A recently published story by Carr called Stone and Heart, in which she recounts a tennis party. During the party, a young man lifts her down from a ladder and kisses her, causing her to lose "a perfectly whole good heart," she wrote.

"Soon I found the young man was only flirting with me, but too late, my heart was lost. It took 15 years to pull myself out."

So if the man in the photos was the fellow who broke her heart, who was he? Bridge was hoping to stir some memories by releasing the photograph, and already she has been deluged with calls and e-mails from people who think they know who it is - including someone who's sure he's a great-uncle who lived four blocks from the Carrs in Victoria.

"Maybe by the time the exhibit opens," she says, "we'll have an answer."

The Other Emily: Redefining Emily Carr opens March 2 in Victoria.