ALC BCSFA CGP FCA G7 OSA RPS TPG
1885 - 1970
Lake Superior Sketch XCV
oil on board, circa 1922 - 1923
signed and on verso signed, titled on a label and inscribed with the artist's symbol and with the Doris Mills inventory #4/95
10 3/8 x 13 3/4 in 26.4 x 35 cm
Estimate: $125,000 - $175,000
Sold for: $121,250
Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave
Acquired as a gift from Howard and Margaret Harris to Marjory and Schuyler Snively, circa 1946
By descent through the family to the present Private Collection, Ontario
Doris Mills, L.S. Harris Inventory, 1936, Lake Superior Sketches, Group 4, listed, location noted as the Studio Building, catalogue #95
Lake Superior Sketch XCV depicts one of Lawren Harris’s most celebrated subjects, the north shore of Lake Superior. Painted on one of his early trips with A.Y. Jackson to the area, this sketch effectively communicates the location’s majestic scale, with dramatic landforms, covered in a patchwork of autumnal colours, rising and falling around a brilliant blue bay of the great lake. For Harris, this was a region of boundless inspiration, and his works from there range widely in their moods, subjects and styles. This plein air oil sketch, an evocative and sensitive work, places the viewer amidst the enthusiasm and excitement that the artist felt while being surrounded by such grandeur.
Following years of sketching in the density and abundant vitality of the Algoma region, Harris “wanted something bare and stark,” according to his sketching companion Jackson, and he found it in the openness of the North Shore. Here the artist could explore the austerity and vast ruggedness of the landscape, finding ways to communicate that through paint. This panel demonstrates his success in such efforts, with its eloquent rhythms of undulating ribbons of ochre and scarlet punctuated by soft golden deciduous trees and stoic dark spruces. The interplay of these colours is electrified by the vibrancy of the blue water, a glimpse of which is all that is necessary to balance the work. One can easily associate this painting with Jackson’s praise for the area, when he claimed: “I know of no more impressive scenery in Canada for the landscape painter. There is a sublime order to it, the long curves of the beaches, the sweeping ranges of hills, and headlands that push out into the lake…In the autumn the whole country glows with colour.”
The harmonious palette and somewhat muted tones are indicative of Harris’s mastery of colour, imbuing this work with a mysterious haze that permeates, giving a wonderful sense of distance to the lilac and dusky rose-coloured hills. Several other Lake Superior sketches from the early 1920s have similar atmospherics, likely caused by smoke from forest fires, which had been so instrumental in revealing the underlying musculature of the area and the expansiveness that Harris reveled in.
For Harris, the north shore of Lake Superior provided opportunities to exercise his vision for distillation and intensification that were not found in the dynamic chromatic vibrancy of autumn in Algoma. Considering the progression of the artist’s relationship to colour, depictions of the atmospherics in this panel can be seen as a natural transition towards his later keyed down and limited palette. This aesthetic resonated with him so greatly that his paintings in the latter half of the 1920s emulate it – not necessarily in the same colour motif, but in the great restraint that is shown and the harmony that is achieved. Works such as Lake Superior Sketch XCV represent potential realizations towards the next steps that his art would take in his ever-evolving practice.
The topography in this panel seems taut with the power of the northern country, the hillside poised like the haunches of a sleeping animal, full of potential action – an apt metaphor, considering the influence of this part of Harris’s oeuvre on both his contemporaries and on Canada’s collective identity. When recollecting about the region, fellow Toronto artist Yvonne McKague Housser wrote in 1980, “My first glimpse of the North Shore of Lake Superior was from a train. I sat with my nose pressed against the dirty window and marveled at how Lawren Harris had caught the extraordinary light and feeling of bigness that makes that part of Canada unique. I made some pencil notes and vowed that one day I would paint there.” The grand impact of works such as this still resonates strongly today, inspiring us and connecting us to the country.
We thank Alec Blair, Director/Lead Researcher, Lawren S. Harris Inventory Project, for contributing the above essay.
1. A.Y. Jackson, A Painter’s Country: The Autobiography of A.Y. Jackson (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1958), 57.
3. Yvonne McKague Housser, “North Shore of Lake Superior,” Northward Journal: A Quarterly of Northern Arts 16 (1980): 27.
Estimate: $125,000 - $175,000
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