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LOT 132

Lawren Stewart Harris
1885 - 1970

Joe Lake, Algonquin Park
oil on board, circa 1920
signed and on verso signed twice, titled twice and inscribed "$80" / "Mrs. Harvey - Kilbarry Rd." / "Not For Sale" / "KR 1445" / "7"
16 x 20 in 40.6 x 50.8 cm

Estimate: $200,000 - $300,000

Sold for: $241,250

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

Kinsman Robinson Galleries, Toronto
Private Collection, Ontario

Jeremy Adamson, Lawren S. Harris: Urban Scenes and Wilderness Landscapes, 1906 – 1930, Art Gallery of Ontario, 1978, page 72
David P. Silcox, The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson, 2003, reproduced page 219

The first stirrings of Lawren Harris’s vision of the North began with early excursions out of Toronto from 1908 to 1912, in locations such as the Laurentians, the northern reaches of the Ottawa River and in Haliburton, north of Toronto and near Algonquin Park. Then, a pivotal experience occurred in 1913, when Harris and J.E.H. MacDonald went to Buffalo to see the Exhibition of Contemporary Scandinavian Art. The Scandinavian show strengthened Harris’s nationalist vision of Canada and the North. He wrote that this show “corroborated our ideas. Here were paintings of northern lands created in the spirit of those lands and through the hearts and minds of those who knew and loved them. Here was an art bold, vigorous and uncompromising, embodying direct, first-hand experience of the great North.”
A few years later, Algonquin Park, 200 kilometres north of Toronto, became a significant early northern painting place for Harris and other painters in the Group of Seven. The catalyst for these trips was Tom Thomson, for whom Algonquin Park was all-important. The significance of Thomson’s contribution to the Group’s vision of the North is well known – with his sharply honed wilderness skills and passion for painting this area, he was considered the spirit of the North, and he inspired them. Harris’s sketching trips to Algonquin Park are documented as first occurring in spring of 1915, in the company of Thomson and Dr. James MacCallum. In the spring of 1916, Harris traveled there again, with his cousin Chester, Thomson and MacCallum. They painted at Cauchon Lake, and after MacCallum and Harris’s cousin left, Thomson and Harris paddled to Aura Lee Lake.
Thomson’s intensity on these sketching trips made a great impression on Harris - he recounted how in 1916, a thunderstorm struck while they were painting. They took shelter in an abandoned lumber shack, but suddenly Thomson “ran out into the gale, squatted behind a big stump and commenced to paint in a fury.” Harris stated, “Here, was symbolized…the function of [the] artist in life: he must accept in deep singleness of purpose the manifestations of life in man and in great nature, and transform these into controlled, ordered and vital expressions of meaning.”
During the winters of 1915 and 1916, Thomson returned to Toronto and stayed in the now-famous Studio Building in Toronto, and his exchanges with Harris and the other future Group members made a strong impression. These artists were so identified with the Algonquin area at this time that they were referred to as the Algonquin School. In 1917, after Thomson’s untimely death, A.Y. Jackson wrote from France, “He was the guide, the interpreter, and we the guests partaking of his hospitality so generously given…My debt to him is almost that of a new world...and a truer artist’s vision.”
Algonquin Park had been established as a recreation and game sanctuary in 1893. However, its forest, containing white pine, yellow birch, tamarack, spruce and maple trees, had been logged. It is possible that the bare standing tree trunk and gnarled branches lying in the water at Joe Lake were the product of this activity. Also, Joe Lake was the site of the Hotel Algonquin, so clearing would have been done in the area. Harris was drawn to the image of a standing bare tree trunk, strongly featured in his work from Lake Superior, beginning in 1921. This motif could be seen as both a sculptural element and a spiritual one - the trunk a symbol of the courage of the life force of nature in all its cycles.
As this painting is larger than Harris’s standard panels executed in the field, it would likely have been painted in the studio, after his trips of 1915 and 1916. One could ascertain that it foreshadows his Lake Superior works, and could have been painted close to the beginning of that period. A striking feature of this superb work is the glowing sky with its dramatic cloud formations, culminating in vertical peaks, which seem to echo the two standing evergreens to the left. This illuminated sky, reflected in the lake water, is made brighter by contrast with the dark evergreens and the dusky hills on the horizon. In atmosphere, the painting is still and reverential, Harris’s “ordered and vital expression” of the spirit of Algonquin’s wilderness.

Estimate: $200,000 - $300,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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