Lot # 140
Canadian, Impressionist & Modern Art Live auction

Lawren Stewart Harris
ALC BCSFA CGP FCA G7 OSA RPS TPG 1885 - 1970 Canadian

Mount Unwin and Charlton - Maligne Lake, Jasper
oil on board circa 1924
on verso signed and titled
10 1/2 x 13 3/4 in  26.7 x 34.9cm

Collection of the Artist
Bess Harris Collection, Sante Fe, New Mexico, 1938, then Vancouver
A Prominent Canadian Executive and Philanthropist, Toronto, circa 1962

A.Y. Jackson, “Artists in the Mountains,” The Canadian Forum, January 1925
Lawren Harris, Abstract Painting: A Disquisition, 1954, page 11
Pierre B. Landry, editor, Catalogue of the National Gallery of Canada, Canadian Art, Volume Two / G-K, National Gallery of Canada, 1994, the 1924 canvas Maligne Lake, Jasper Park, #3541, reproduced page 93, and the circa 1950 canvas Nature Rhythms, #17160, reproduced page 100
Lisa Christensen, A Hiker’s Guide to the Rocky Mountain Art of Lawren Harris, 2000, the 1924 canvas Maligne Lake, Jasper Park reproduced page 45, and the circa 1951 canvas entitled Mountain, Maligne Lake, collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, reproduced page 47

Inscribed on verso with the artist's symbol and "Bess Harris collection" / "2" (circled) / "11" / "Rogers [?]" / "210 King St. W." / "Reserve, Mr. Brebner, New York" and variously

The trip Lawren Harris and A.Y. Jackson made to the Rocky Mountains in 1924 was a natural extension of their ongoing exploration of Canada’s many landscapes. Jackson had painted near Mount Robson for the Canadian Northern Railway in 1914, and in 1924 he was not any more enthused about the mountains than he had been then. But for Harris the trip was a first encounter with the mountains - a subject and experience he would paint and interpret over three decades.

The artists spent August and early September sketching in Jasper Park, walking from Jasper Lodge to Maligne Lake. “We camped at the south end of Maligne Lake on a wide delta of gravel,” Jackson wrote in the January 1925 issue of The Canadian Forum. “Round about were vast piles of crumbling mountains that crowded in the cold green, silt-coloured water of the lake.”

Harris painted a number of sketches on and around Maligne Lake on this trip. These sketches measured approximately 10 ˝ x 14 inches. Later, in 1925, Harris started painting on panels approximately 12 x 15 inches. As in the sketch for the 1924 canvas Maligne Lake, Jasper Park (in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada, #3541), Harris has situated himself at one end of the lake looking across the water to the mountains. But Mount Unwin and Charlton - Maligne Lake, Jasper does not provide a characteristic foreground footing for the viewer. The centralized composition is dominated by the mountains that float in the middle of the panel, their forms reflected in the calm waters. The light is clear though overcast, the forms sharp. The flowing rhythms swoop up to the central peak and into the clouds above.

From the mid-1930s, the bulk of Harris’s output consisted of abstractions, yet he also painted landscapes following his move to Vancouver in 1940. Most are painted on Masonite and were based on oil sketches painted between 1918 and 1931. Mount Unwin and Charlton was worked up in a canvas entitled Mountain, Maligne Lake, in the collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, that Harris exhibited with the British Columbia Society of Fine Arts in April 1951. The canvas is largely faithful to the sketch, though the clouds are more stylized, and the colour contrasts less sharp and more flat. As Lisa Christensen has noted, the still waters of the sketch have been stirred by a soft breeze in the canvas.

If Harris’s landscapes of the 1940s and 1950s seem at odds with his abstracts, a circa 1949 drawing entitled Study for Mountain, Maligne Lake, in the collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery (#85.19), after Mount Unwin and Charlton and not for Mountain, Maligne Lake, shows how, in fact, the two were intimately connected. In the drawing Harris delineated the silhouettes of Mount Unwin and Charlton, the sloping hills that enter the composition centre left and right, and the line of the clouds skirting the tops of the peaks, but curving lines in the water create a whole new rhythm that he would develop in Nature Rhythms (in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada, #17160), which Harris was working on at the same time. The artist described Nature Rhythms in his 1954 publication Abstract Painting: A Disquisition as an abstract painting “in which the forces of nature work together in a continuous movement of harmonious formation” - the perfect caption for Mount Unwin and Charlton - Maligne Lake, Jasper.

We thank Charles C. Hill, former curator of Canadian art from 1980 to 2014 at the National Gallery of Canada and author of The Group of Seven: Art for a Nation, for contributing the above essay.

Estimate: $200,000 ~ $300,000 CAD  
Sold for: $421,250 CAD (including Buyer's Premium)

All prices are in Canadian Dollars.

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