Lawren Stewart Harris
ALC BCSFA CGP FCA G7 OSA RPS TPG
1885 - 1970
Colin Range, Rocky Mts., Rocky Mountain Sketch CXI
oil on beaver board, 1924
signed and on verso signed, titled and inscribed with the Doris Mills inventory #7/111 / and "IV" / "#2418" / "Colin Range, Jasper"
10 3/4 x 13 7/8 in 27.3 x 35.2 cm
Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000
Preview at: Heffel Montreal
By descent to the present Private Collection, Michigan
Doris Mills, L.S. Harris Inventory, 1936, Rocky Mountain Sketches, Group 7, catalogue #111, listed, location noted as the Studio Building
Paintings of the Rocky Mountains occupy a critical place in the catalogue of Lawren Harris’s work. In the 1920s, Harris was constantly refining his unique artistic approach. The quest to portray the spirit of the Canadian landscape began by the lakes of northern Ontario, but it was in the mountains where he was able to ascend into another realm that seemed to bring him physically closer to his ideas about spirituality and universal truth, and to capture them in his work. What he depicted in the Rockies, alongside his work at Lake Superior and in the Arctic, was the pinnacle of his journey in landscape painting. Fully realized by 1930, this quest catalyzed a transition to pure abstraction, which remained the focus for the remainder of his career.
Harris was at home in the mountains, writing to fellow artist Emily Carr in 1942, “I thrive on mountain air and climbing.” This work, Colin Range, Rocky Mts., Mountain Sketch CXI, comes from a period when he was first discovering the Canadian Rockies and realizing this affinity, both personally and artistically. It was painted in Jasper in 1924, on Harris’s first trip to the region, when he was joined by A.Y. Jackson. Works from this first trip are easily distinguished by their size, as it was the only visit to the Rockies when Harris was painting on 10 1/2 x 13 ½-inch panels, before transitioning to larger boards of 12 x 15 inches.
Harris and Jackson began their trip at Jasper Park Lodge and did early sketches of surrounding lakes, looking up to grand peaks in the distance. However, their initial impressions did not resonate as deeply as they had hoped. Jackson later recalled, “We did not find the landscapes in the neighbourhood of Jasper Lodge or along the railroad very interesting, and we wanted to get into the big country.” They set out to Maligne Lake, where Harris initially was underwhelmed, stating, “When I first saw the mountains, travelled through them, I was most discouraged. Nowhere did they measure up to the advertising folders, or to the conception these had formed in my mind’s eye.” They explored and sketched at the southern end of the lake in the “weird and ancient country of crumbling mountains and big glaciers,” but were more intrigued by what they saw in the Colin Range, to the east.
The artists climbed up the section of mountains now named the Queen Elizabeth Range, where they finally had more favourable responses. According to Jackson, “The Colin Range was an amazing place, a kind of Cubists’ paradise full of geometric formations, all waiting for the abstract painter.” It was here that Harris began to thrive, and one can conclude, based on the great effort they took to establish a camp at high elevation (and return to it later in the trip), that the region was of particular appeal. It could easily be what Harris was describing when he later wrote, “After I became better acquainted with the mountains, camped and tramped and lived among them, I found a power and majesty and a wealth of experience at nature’s summit which no travel-folder ever expressed.”
Viewing the epic perspective of this work, looking east towards Garter Peak (centre-left) from an unnamed ridge just north of Opal Peak, the layers of warm rock faces and strong cool shadows, full of dramatic angular forms, make it easy to understand why Jackson and Harris “found the six-thousand foot level, where we could look both up and down, most satisfying for painting.” A sketch by Jackson of this exact same scene (in a private collection) affirms that the painters’ attraction to this composition and subject matter was mutual.
Sketching high in the alpine was an approach Harris continued throughout his trips to the Rockies, with many of his most impactful works being done at altitude, amongst the mountains, in the rarified air where he thrived. This work is an impressive demonstration of the artist establishing his approach to one of his most important and iconic subjects.
We thank Alec Blair, Director/Lead Researcher, Lawren S. Harris Inventory Project, for contributing the above essay.
1. Lawren Harris to Emily Carr, August 1942.
2. A.Y. Jackson, A Painter’s Country: The Autobiography of A.Y. Jackson (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1958), 106.
3. Lawren Harris, quoted in Bess Harris and R.G.P. Colgrove, eds., Lawren Harris (Toronto: Macmillan, 1969), 62.
4. Jackson, Painter’s Country, 106.
5. Ibid., 107.
6. Harris, quoted in Harris and Colgrove, Lawren Harris, 62.
7. Jackson, Painter’s Country, 106.
Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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