Lawren Stewart Harris
ALC BCSFA CGP FCA G7 OSA RPS TPG
1885 - 1970
Cathedral Mountain from Yoho Valley, Mountain Sketch LXXXVI
oil on board, circa 1929
signed and on verso signed twice, titled and inscribed "To Sally on the day of her wedding with love and best wishes, Uncle Lawren" and with the Doris Mills inventory #7/86
12 x 15 in 30.5 x 38.1 cm
Estimate: $800,000 - $1,000,000
Sold for: $931,250
Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave
A wedding gift from the Artist and Bess Harris to Sally Lewis (Dorit Larkin's daughter), who was Bess Harris's niece
By descent to a Private Collection, Calgary
Sold sale of Fine Canadian Art, Heffel Fine Art Auction House, May 25, 2006, lot 115
Private Collection, Vancouver
Doris Mills, L.S. Harris Inventory, 1936, Rocky Mountain Sketches, Group 7, catalogue #86, location noted as the Studio Building, and a drawing of this work illustrated by Hans Jensen
Paul Duval, Lawren Harris: Where the Universe Sings, 2011, reproduced page 314
The mountains of Yoho National Park, British Columbia, are the subjects for some of Lawren Harris’s most remarkable mountain works. Traveling by train to Wapta Lake, BC, Harris went specifically to the Lake O’Hara region of Yoho Park first in 1926. He would return to Lake O’Hara and the comforts of the lodge there again in 1928 and paint in the nearby hanging valleys at Lake McArthur and on the Opabin Plateau.
In 1929, Harris took the train to one station farther west and headed up the Yoho Valley to Twin Falls Chalet. Twin Falls is across the Kicking Horse Valley (where the train would have taken him, and where the Trans-Canada Highway now runs) from Lake O’Hara, but no less beautiful and no lesser subject for significant works by Harris. From his base at the chalet, Harris would hike well into the back country to the foot of the Wapta Icefield, beginning his work that would lead to the remarkable series of sketches and paintings known as the Isolation Peak works. This gorgeous oil sketch depicting Cathedral Mountain is based on the scenery Harris would have seen over his shoulder early in the trip towards Twin Falls, as he climbed up the slopes opposite Cathedral Mountain, and head-on during his return trip back down the valley to the train station. It is an unusual depiction of Cathedral Mountain, which is most often painted from the Lake O’Hara side, and is rare for this reason alone, in addition to it being an absolutely classic mountain Harris.
Harris’s Rocky Mountain work is highly intellectual and mathematical in nature, based on geometry, spiritualism and theosophy. Occasionally, a hint of the pastoral side of landscape painting appears in his work. Cathedral Mountain from Yoho Valley, Mountain Sketch LXXXVI is such a work. A carefully balanced composition of blue and green, the work is more inviting and serene than the studio canvases such as Mount Robson and Isolation Peak tend to be. While Harris’s explorations of the higher states of man’s spiritual potential are hinted at in the radiant sky and upthrust peaks, the dark richness of the glowing hills evokes the real world of the forest and life below the mind’s treeline. The work is a rhythmic play of colour and light, with chalky blue-grey against the greens of the forest, yellow-white against the clear blue of the mountains. Similarly, the brushwork is a play of contrasts, patchy and rough in the forested hills, and smooth and vertical in the scree slopes on the mountains. The sky is painted horizontally with a slight curve, controlling our gaze and drawing it back into the centre of the scene. Mountain scenes such as Cathedral Mountain from Yoho Valley have a welcoming feel to them that high-altitude Harris works do not—they speak of growth and joy and lushness first, spiritualism and intellect second. One might actually hike there; animals might live in the forest. This fact may have influenced Harris’s choice of this work as a wedding gift for his wife Bess’s niece.
In addition to this rare pastoral side, Cathedral Mountain from Yoho Valley is also an excellent example of mountain works that lead clearly into Harris’s later abstractions. In these later works, rounded forest hills would become circles, mountains would become triangles, and Harris would further explore through colour his theosophical viewpoint. As the works became more and more abstracted, so did the titles, often simply Rocky Mountain Sketch and a Roman numeral, as with the secondary title given to this work.
We thank Lisa Christensen, author of A Hiker’s Guide to the Rocky Mountain Art of Lawren Harris, for contributing the above essay.
Estimate: $800,000 - $1,000,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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