Lot Sale Results

Lawren Stewart Harris

Lawren Stewart Harris

Lawren Stewart Harris
Canadian, Impressionist & Modern Art Live auction

Lot # 119

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

Birches
oil on board
signed and on verso signed, titled and incorrectly titled Maligne Lake on the Thielsen Gallery label, dated 1912 and inscribed "S." / "1097A" / "BHC-9 No. 62" (circled) / "S" (circled) / "31" / "79"
13 3/8 x 10 5/8 in  34 x 27cm

Provenance:
Bess Harris Collection, Vancouver
By descent to Lawren P. Harris, the Artist's son
Roberts Gallery, Toronto
Thielsen Gallery, London
Private Collection, Windsor

Literature:
Jeremy Adamson, Lawren S. Harris: Urban Scenes and Wilderness Landscapes, 1906-1930, Art Gallery of Ontario, 1978, reproduced page 66

This striking early work from 1912 by Lawren Harris was completed during a time of foundational importance for painting in Canada. Less than a year prior, Harris had met J.E.H. MacDonald, and in just over a year, A.Y. Jackson would arrive in Toronto. In November of 1911, MacDonald held an exhibition at the Arts and Letters Club of small oil sketches done in and around High Park. Harris viewed the exhibition with Dr. James MacCallum and soon sought out a meeting with the artist. It is easy to imagine that Harris recognized in MacDonald’s small paintings the aesthetic he was also searching for – one capable of expressing the essence of the Canadian landscape. Prior to that meeting, Harris first found his full voice as an artist with his depictions of Toronto street scenes in the early 1910s, full of vivid colour and Post-Impressionist texture.

With its luscious pastels, soft atmosphere and interest in patterning, Birches shows Harris at his most romantic. The rocky yet gentle hillside fills the painting plane nearly to its top, creating an engaging vibrancy in its patterning and in the harmonious palette of the soft violet and periwinkle of the boulders against the grassy undergrowth of emerald and mint. Finally, the upsweep of the titular birches rendered in a blushing pink against a powder blue light glowing in the background at the top completes the striking use of the vertical composition. The brushwork of this piece is also notable. It shows an elegant handling of paint, with a palpable but restrained use of the textures that would eventually leave his work as his style became increasingly spiritual and idealized. The clarity of light in this painting, however, is a hallmark of all of Harris’s best work.

The date of 1912 is key to understanding many other important aspects of this painting. Though Harris and MacDonald had taken sketching trips in the spring of 1912 as far north as Timiskaming and Mattawa, the season depicted suggests that this work was completed at Woodend, the Harris family summer home on Lake Simcoe’s Kempenfelt Bay. The calm enchantment of this painting, however, reflects a style in Harris’s output that would soon change.

Harris’s journey with MacDonald to the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, New York in January 1913 to view the highly influential Exhibition of Contemporary Scandinavian Art led to a series of studio explorations of winter landscapes, as well as bold stylistic experiments such as Laurentian Landscape (1913 - 1914), completed in a studio he shared with Jackson following his arrival in Toronto. Sketching trips like those to Woodend were soon interrupted by Harris’s enlistment in the Canadian Armed Forces in 1916. The following deaths of Tom Thomson in July 1917 and Lawren's brother Howard Harris, killed in action in February 1918, resulted in personal turmoil.

After Harris’s recovery and the continuation of his Post-Impressionist style through his celebrated Algoma period, his style from 1920 onwards would undergo radical changes. Underpinned by metaphysical and theoretical urgencies, his increasingly idealized depictions of Lake Superior, the Rocky Mountains and icebergs in the Far North eventually resulted in his abstractions from the mid-1930s onwards. While he was on his transformative journey from Post-Impressionism to abstraction, Harris, MacDonald, Jackson and the rest of the Group of Seven would become some of the most celebrated artists in Canadian history, and would change painting in Canada forever. Produced at the outset of that journey, Birches stands as an exquisite example from one of the most painterly and picturesque periods of Harris’s multi-faceted career.

Estimate: $100,000 ~ $150,000 CAD

Sold For: $109,250.00 CAD (including buyer's premium)


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