Lawren Stewart Harris
ALC BCSFA CGP FCA G7 OSA RPS TPG
1885 - 1970
double-sided oil on canvas, circa 1950
on verso numbered F.7. twice and stamped Lawren Harris LSH Holdings Ltd. #127
50 x 38 in 127 x 96.5 cm
Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000
Preview at: Heffel Montreal
Estate of the Artist, Vancouver
Acquired from the above by the present Private Collection, Toronto
Lawren Harris, “What the Public Wants,” Canadian Art, vol. 12, no. 1, Autumn 1954
Lawren Harris, Abstract Painting: A Disquisition, 1954, page 11
Ian McNairn et al., Lawren Harris, Retrospective Exhibition, National Gallery of Canada, 1963, essay by Paul Duval, “From Nature to Abstraction,” page 23 and essay by John Parnell, “The Vancouver Period,” page 42
Joan Murray and Robert Fulford, The Beginning of Vision: The Drawings of Lawren S. Harris, 1982, Peggy Knox, “Personal Reminiscences by Peggy Harris Knox,” addendum, unpaginated
In 1963, the National Gallery of Canada held a retrospective exhibition for Lawren Harris, celebrating his important contributions to Canadian art and diverse approaches to communicating his ideas and visions. In the catalogue, Paul Duval wrote succinctly: “Versatility has been the keynote of Lawren Harris’ long career.” This animated and exciting work, LSH 127, is one of several from the 1950s that uses a warm and radiant palette to depict flame-like forms. A far departure from his cool, austere landscapes of the late 1920s, and even further from his carefully calibrated geometric abstractions of the 1930s, it is commanding evidence of Harris’s mastery of his own continuous artistic evolution. By this point in his career, he had long been a pioneer in Canadian art, repeatedly creating and recreating styles that were consistently novel, yet reliably recognizable as his own.
LSH 127 is one of Harris’s later-period pieces of abstract expressionism, which he described in his essay Abstract Painting: A Disquisition as “completely new creations of experiences of nature, of ideas given life by pictorial means, of a range of subtle perceptions and new emotional structure created and clarified by visual means.” After moving to Vancouver in 1940, this overarching approach generally defined his abstract works, allowing and encouraging significant variation in style and subject. As always, Harris brought great dedication to developing his work, writing in 1954, “If an artist is to clarify and bring to life what he paints, it demands undeviating concentration on the work at hand.”
The artist’s daughter, Peggy Knox, wrote an illuminating description of Harris’s working methods during this time, providing vivid insight into the creation of works such as LSH 127. Describing Harris working in his Vancouver living room while listening to loud classical music, she writes:
“He never just painted – he walked around, whistling, directing the orchestra with a paintbrush, looking out at the mountains and through a mirror backwards at the painting, or sitting awhile studying the work. Suddenly he’d get up, squeeze an inch of white from the tube, select a brush, dip it in yellow, quick mix with the white, now a touch of green and swirl to mix – very lightly. Then stand back, take a cool, perceptive look at the canvas, fill the brush – one long firm stroke, another scoop and a stroke beside the first one. Then, brush in hand, arms waving, humming the melody – finale! He said creative painting should be ninety percent looking and thinking and only ten percent painting.”
True to his deliberate and considered approach, Harris seldom began a painting directly on a large canvas. In the 1950s and early 1960s, the initial ideas often came either from pencil drawings (which varied from deliberate experiments with idiomatic forms and dynamic symmetry theory to the use of unconscious “automatic drawing” techniques) or from oil studies done over remnants of scraped-off landscape sketches from the 1920s. Whether deliberate or incidental, the latter method provided direct links between the forms of his most conceptual abstracts and his iconic and grounded landscape works of the 1920s. Perfectly illustrating this, the painting on the verso of this work is based on a scraped-off Lake Superior sketch (Northern Sketch II in the 1936 Doris Mills Inventory, now in the UBC Belkin Art Collection). Prior to its modifications, the sketch was the basis for the awe-inspiring major canvas Lake Superior, in the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Thomson Collection. The connection between the two is initially unrecognizable, but unmistakable when the process is examined.
Working from sources such as these, Harris developed his abstracts through multiple iterations at different sizes. LSH 127 has a precursory pencil drawing, in the collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery (Drawing 776) as well as a smaller oil on board version (sold by Heffel in May 2015, lot 57). In addition to the aforementioned oil sketch, the verso of our work has several other related works, including LSH 118 (sold by Heffel in November 2003, lot 177).
In 1963, John Parnell wrote of Harris’s Vancouver works: “There is a maturity and a sense of harmony and balance that only a lifetime of creative experience can bring to a painting.” Certainly LSH 127 is deserving of such praise, and it is an exemplary representation of one of Harris’s diverse artistic phases.
We thank Alec Blair, Director/Lead Researcher, Lawren S. Harris Inventory Project, for contributing the above essay.
Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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