Fall 2016 - 4th Session Live auction
Lot # 209
Lawren Stewart Harris
ALC BCSFA CGP FCA G7 OSA RPS TPG 1885 - 1970 Canadian
Mount Robson from Berg Lake
oil on board circa 1929
on verso signed twice and titled
12 x 15 in 30.5 x 38.1cm
A wedding gift from the Artist to Anne Harris, wife of Lawren P. Harris
By descent through the Artist's family
Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto
Kenneth G. Heffel Fine Art Inc., Vancouver
Peter and Joanne Brown Collection, Vancouver, acquired from the above in 1984
Jeremy Adamson, Lawren S. Harris: Urban Scenes and Wilderness Landscapes, 1906 - 1930, Art Gallery of Ontario, 1978, reproduced page 174
Lisa Christensen, A Hiker's Guide to the Rocky Mountain Art of Lawren Harris, 2000, the circa 1924 - 1925 graphite drawing entitled Mount Robson, in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada, reproduced page 30 and the circa 1924 - 1929 graphite drawing entitled Mount Robson, in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada, reproduced page 33
Paul Duval, Lawren Harris: Where the Universe Sings, 2011, a similar circa 1928 oil entitled Mount Robson from the Northeast, in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario, reproduced page 305
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Retrospective, 1963
Vancouver Art Gallery, June 7 - September 8, 1963, traveling to the Vancouver Art Gallery, October 4 - 27, 1963
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Lawren S. Harris: Urban Scenes and Wilderness Landscapes, 1906 - 1930, January 14 - February 26, 1978, catalogue #148
On verso inscribed: "not for sale" / "7 - 3" / 6 sketches of Mount Robson" / "III - From Berg Lake, Morning" / "25 Severn St. Toronto" twice / "Property - Mrs. L.P. Harris, Sackville, N.B." / "My [indistinct] Lawren [indistinct] Harris on his 24th birthday, August 11th, 1973, in love and peace, Elizabeth Anne Harris"
In 1929, Lawren Harris explored the back country of Mount Robson Provincial Park in British Columbia. After a hike of more than 20 kilometres to Robson Meadows, he set up a base from which he explored the surrounding glaciated passes. He worked in graphite in a seven-by-nine-inch sketchbook and would also work on the spot in oil on panel, later developing these sketches into canvases in his studio.
Mount Robson place names figure prominently in Harris’s mountain oeuvre, attesting to his interest in the scenery. His initial drawings include several views looking south towards the northeast face of Mount Robson and Berg Lake. Three drawings of this particular view of Robson by Harris are known, which clearly demonstrate that Harris found the structure and form of the snow-clad colossus compelling from this vantage point. The detail and finish of the drawings also shows that Harris thought the scene would be of further interest when he returned to his studio. Harris is also known to have painted six on-the-spot works in oil on panel at Mount Robson, one of which is this lot. On its verso, an inscription in Harris’s hand reads “6 sketches of Mount Robson” and “III - From Berg Lake, Morning”—telling us that this was the third of the six sketches. Another known work from this group is the well-published Mount Robson from the Northeast, in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario, directly related to our lot and inscribed as being one of "6 sketches of Mount Robson II. Painted from the Northeast from high up ½ way to Mt. Munn [sic].”
The drawings for Mount Robson from Berg Lake are absolutely revelatory. They tell us much about Harris’s working methods and vividly enhance our understanding of the painting. All three drawings are annotated with his colour notes and beautifully shaded to indicate depth, light and tone. Harris marks certain places on the drawings—including the glaciers, a spot on the lake, and some of the ridge lines—with an x, which indicates that this spot is to be cast in light. In the drawing illustrated with this lot, from the collection of the National Gallery of Canada, we can match these marked spots exactly to the areas of light in the painting. Harris was a master of light, using it not only to define shapes, but also to convey a sense of serene spirituality that imbues so many of his works.
Harris’s reference to the work having been executed in the morning is supported fully by the brilliant light that hits the uppermost face of the peak, glints off the tongues of the glacier and begins to warm the colour of the lake. The light in this work is extraordinary—creating a theosis effect, wherein the whole scene is made divine through light. By Harris’s hand, Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, is a shining, sphinx-like, sculptural form. Remote and serene, the peak basks in its own grace. The fallen, wizened tree Harris has added to the foreground is a quiet and solitary witness to the scene, as well as a beautiful homage to the Lake Superior works executed during this same period in his career. Soon after, Harris would abandon complicated foreground devices altogether, using smoothed, flattened rocks or barely visible crests of land instead, but always giving us as viewers a place to be, a place to stand—in effect, a place for us to enter into the work, to experience theosis through the beauty of the natural world. The places he sought out—remote, serene, unpeopled—were his and thus our channel to this experience.
Harris’s paintings of Mount Robson are pinnacle achievements in his career, and this particular work is right at the top. It conveys a feeling of complete stillness and wonder. The light on the glacier seems to shimmer and vibrate, enabling us to share in Harris’s reverence for this place, and in his vision as an artistic seer.
We thank Lisa Christensen, author of A Hiker’s Guide to the Rocky Mountain Art of Lawren Harris and director of Heffel’s Calgary office, for contributing the above essay.
Estimate: $600,000 ~ $800,000 CAD
Sold For: $1,888,000.00 CAD (including buyer's premium)