LOT 123

1885 - 1970

Mill by the Water’s Edge, Ont.
oil on board
signed and on verso titled on a label and inscribed variously
10 5/8 x 13 in, 27 x 33 cm

Estimate: $50,000 - $70,000 CAD

Sold for: $145,250

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

Private Collection, Toronto
Important Canadian Paintings, Drawings, Watercolours and Prints of the 19th and 20th Centuries, Sotheby's Canada, May 25, 1970, lot 85
Private Collection, Toronto

Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, Oshawa and District Collects, February 1971

Mill by the Water’s Edge, Ont. is an excellent example of the plein air sketching that Lawren S. Harris and his fellow artists in the Group of Seven found so effective in depicting the world around them. Using this approach, they were able to capture the environments they traveled through, sought out and spent their lives in. The artistic translations they created are full of the energy and life of the moments depicted, providing the audience and the public with lenses through which we can appreciate the beauty of this country and its variety.

Harris’s passion for sketching the Canadian landscape led him to explore a wide array of subjects and regions throughout his career. His focus shifted considerably over time, including fascinations with both urban and wilderness scenes. This work, a sympathetic depiction of a derelict mill, is clearly a rural subject, but echoes his interest in the character-filled, rundown homes in Toronto’s Ward district. Among other elements, these scenes allowed Harris to explore a diversity of building materials and their various states of repair, where he might accentuate the colours and find patterns and designs emerging that others would have been blind to. The results were often unique and captivating representations of subjects that many would have dismissed as commonplace.

The location of this specific painting is not indicated, but in the 1910s and early 1920s, Harris often would spend time sketching subjects in the areas north of Toronto, including Algonquin Park, Muskoka and Georgian Bay. Many works were also painted in the Lake Simcoe area, where he had a summer home near Allandale. As seen represented in this sketch, Harris’s paintings from this period include not only natural elements such as the trees, fields and lakeshores of these regions but also often built structures like country churches, barns, homes and shacks. Incorporating these explicitly human elements into paintings provides inherently engaging subject matter for the audience, who are drawn to wonder about the history and story behind them.

Compositionally, including built subjects also provided Harris with the opportunity to explore various painting techniques and the chance to incorporate more chromatic variety, something very appealing during the more monochromatic (though vibrant) summer months, when green dominated more scenes. In the calm, pastoral Mill by the Water’s Edge, Harris has embraced the rich purple, maroon and orange tones of the aging wood boards, which boldly complement the various shades of brilliant green summer vegetation. High clouds drift across a pale blue sky, offsetting the darker tones of the still water in the foreground, upon which we see an expertly rendered reflection.

The mill’s wooden roof and siding provide Harris with the chance to use long, parallel strokes in their depiction, rendered with subtle variations in tone and value. The brushwork is confident, laid down deliberately and rapidly over the simple preliminary sketch of the building, done in a thin dark purple, which can still be glimpsed in a few places. Swirling foliage depicted in the background stands out against the straight lines of the mill’s architecture, and the juxtaposition of the birch tree’s elegantly curving trunk contrasts dramatically with the rigidity of the structure’s vertical boards. These elements come together to create an engaging and deftly rendered scene of northern Ontario, captured by an artist enthralled with the country and enthusiastic to share his vision of it.

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

Estimate: $50,000 - $70,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

Although great care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information posted, errors and omissions may occur. All bids are subject to our Terms and Conditions of Business. Bidders must ensure they have satisfied themselves with the condition of the Lot prior to bidding. Condition reports are available upon request.