LOT 144

1885 - 1970

Pyramid Mt., Jasper Park
oil on board, 1924
signed and on verso signed, titled, inscribed "Pyramid Mountain, from near links" / "LSH" / "II" and stamped 854 twice
10 5/8 x 13 3/4 in, 27 x 34.9 cm

Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000 CAD

Sold for: $193,250

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

Private Estate, British Columbia

This bright and vibrant work by Lawren Harris is an exciting depiction not only of the fabled mountains around Jasper, Alberta, but also of life in those mountains, and it is a rare and exceptional work for the artist. Painted from the southeast shore of Lac Beauvert, this sketch looks across the calm waters of the lake as two figures in a bright red canoe cut through the reflection of the towering Pyramid Mountain, approaching a boathouse on the far shore. The characteristic green roofs of Jasper Park Lodge’s main building and smaller bungalows can be seen through the trees.

In a 1927 promotional booklet from Canadian National Railways (which owned and operated the lodge from the 1920s until the late 1980s), the lodge is romantically described as follows: “Built of huge white boulders and logs brought down from the mountain slopes, its architecture blends so perfectly with the surroundings, that it seems as much a part of the scenery as the mountains themselves.”[1] While the locations and character of some of the structures at the hotel have changed in the decades since, the spirit of this image is as evocative of enjoyable time spent in the Canadian Rockies as on the day it was painted.

Pyramid Mt., Jasper Park dates from 1924, during Harris’s first journey to Canada’s Rocky Mountains. Fellow Group of Seven artist A.Y. Jackson, who had been to the Rockies in 1914, accompanied Harris and his family on this trip, all arriving at Jasper Park Lodge in July. A very strong case can be made for this being one of, if not the, first depiction of the Rocky Mountains by Harris. The artists began their trip at the lodge, and according to Jackson’s letters, Harris did not waste any time in getting to painting: “Lawren has the walls all covered with sketches already,”[2] he wrote to Norah de Pencier before the two artists left the comforts of the lodge and moved farther afield, to Maligne Lake and the Tonquin Valley. Over the course of the trip, Harris produced more than 50 oil sketches, easily distinguished from those of later years by their size (later works measure 12 × 15 inches), capturing a range of subjects from the shores of lakes up to the summits of peaks.

After subsequent trips to the Lake Louise, Lake O’Hara and Banff regions, Harris returned to Jasper five years later, near the conclusion of his regular landscape sketching trips, checking in again at Jasper Park Lodge in July 1929.[3] He revisited this scene, painting Mountain Sketch LXIII (sold by Heffel, fall 2016) of a very similar view across Lac Beauvert, but with Pyramid Mountain conspicuously removed for symmetrical balance.

Harris is most well known for his austere landscapes of the late 1920s, where the landscape is bereft of extraneous detail, leaving only the essential foundational components, and this is the dominant characterization of his work. In reality, the artist’s full catalogue is diverse, and at various times through his landscape painting period he experimented with depictions of people, industry and structures in his sketches and canvases, even beyond the obvious urban scene examples. Examples are rare, but represent his constant experimentation and exploration in how best to capture his vision of the Canadian landscape. This panel is exceptional, as it has the distinction of being, so far, the only known extant example of a Rocky Mountain sketch by Harris depicting an explicit human presence.

Harris and Jackson had originally hoped to use their sketches from this trip to do some work for Canadian National Railways, though ultimately for Harris, nothing came of these plans. Jackson did contribute to the 1927 brochure put out by the railway, and used this sketch, or his own contemporaneous one, as reference material for his gouache colour illustration of Pyramid Mountain. One can only imagine the types of murals the artists could have created with source material like this panel. However, there is a special charm to the crystallizing of grand ideas onto such a fine scale and, as with many of Harris’s sketches, there is success here in conveying a majesty that greatly outsizes the panel’s compact dimensions, giving the audience a true window into the refreshing summer mountain atmosphere of Jasper Park.

We thank Alec Blair, Director/Lead Researcher, Lawren S. Harris Inventory Project, for contributing the above essay.

1. Canadian National Railways, Jasper National Park [booklet] (1927), 32.

2. A.Y. Jackson to Norah Thomson de Pencier, July 22, 1924, De Pencier Fonds, National Gallery of Canada; as quoted in Lisa Christensen, A Hiker’s Guide to the Rocky Mountain Art of Lawren Harris (Calgary: Fifth House, 2000), 42.

3. Social Events, Globe (Toronto), July 9, 1929, 18.

Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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