Emily Carr would have been amused. For the past three weeks in British Columbia, 27 of her paintings have been on the market like so many pork-belly futures. The going price: $1.3 million. Investors from the East were met by the parochial noodling of those wanting to keep the collection in B.C. And thrown into the melee was a Victoria mystery woman apparently willing to donate $700,000 to help the province purchase the set. Presiding over all was 27-year-old Karen Keenlyside who, after just two months
as an art-gallery owner, was assigned to sell the collection. With a charming mop of blonde, Shirley Temple hair, a dog (Gus) and a daughter (Sarah), she presides over her plush Keenlyside Gallery on Vancouver’s Granville Street directing the action like a soybean trader in the pit of a grain exchange.
The 27 Carrs make up the Fannin Hall collection owned by reclusive B.C. industrialist George Clark. He decided to unload them after a magazine article on another subject mentioned the works and he began to receive crank calls. Clark gave the assignment to Keenlyside, who had acted as the collection’s curator for two years. Fronted by Victoria Alderman Robin Blencoe (“It would be a tragedy if they left the province”) and aided by heapings of “patriot pressure,” Carr lovers prevailed upon Provincial Secretary Evan Wolfe to make a bid. He offered $1 million for 19, claiming eight works were similar to others held by the province. The offer was sweetened considerably by a promise of $700,000 from an anonymous Victoria woman—provided she could keep one of the Carrs. Clark, who wanted to keep the collection together, declined.
Keenlyside, frustrated at the lack of progress, was quoted as accusing the government of “dilly-dallying around,” saying: “We’re not talking about used cars, we’re talking about a part of our heritage.” She later said she had not meant to be quoted.
Luke Rombout, director of the Vancouver Art Gallery, which owns 179 Carrs, said it would be disappointing but he didn’t “see any problem” with the Clark collection leaving the province for another public collection. The pot was further stirred when Vancouver writer Maria Tippett, author of a recent
Emily Carr biography, termed the collection overpriced. “She’s an excellent historian, but she has no expertise in the art market,” Keenlyside employee Katherine von Schack countered crisply.
Last Friday, just when it appeared that the matter had been resolved, Clark’s negotiations with the province broke down. Potential buyers from the East were still sniffing around and the paintings had been moved from the gallery for security reasons. Meanwhile, sitting in her gallery office behind an oak desk the size of a billiard table, Keenlyside reflected on the frantic two months during which she has become Vancouver’s most notorious art dealer. “The art business does have an element of theatre to it,” says the Alberta-born £ dealer, “but if I can get people enthu3 siastic about art, then I think I’m doing = a good job.” Thomas Hopkins
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.