Lawren Stewart Harris, painter (b at Brantford, Ont 23 Oct 1885; d at Vancouver 29 Jan 1970).
Lawren Stewart Harris, painter (b at Brantford, Ont 23 Oct 1885; d at Vancouver 29 Jan 1970). Catalyst and leader in the creation of the Group of Seven, founding member and first president of the Canadian Group of Painters, and the painter who influenced Jock MacDonald, and through him other Toronto painters, to paint abstractly. Harris had a profound influence on 3 generations of art in Canada. Harris's father was Thomas Morgan Harris, the secretary of the A. Harris, Son and Co Ltd, a manufacturer of farm machinery which in 1891 amalgamated with Massey to form the Massey-Harris Co Ltd: Lawren Harris was thus a rich man. After attending Toronto's St Andrews College, Harris went to U of Toronto where he was encouraged by his mathematics professor to study art in Berlin. After 4 years of study (1904-08), Harris returned to Canada. In 1908 he went on a sketching trip to the Laurentians; in 1909, with J.W. Beatty, he sketched in Haliburton. That fall he went to Lac-Memphrémagog, Qué. At the same time, he drew and painted houses in downtown Toronto; by the winter of 1911-12, he was sketching with J.E.H. MacDonald and had become friendly with Tom Thomson. In 1913, Harris and MacDonald visited and were inspired by an exhibition of Contemporary Scandinavian Art at the Albright Art Gallery (now the Albright-Knox) in Buffalo.
By the early 1920s, when the Group of Seven was formed, Harris had developed into a magnificent landscape painter, transforming the powerful forms of nature into works of force and elegance such as Above Lake Superior (c 1924) and Maligne Lake (1924). In these and other paintings he reduced the shapes of mountains, shoreline, trees, lakes and clouds, always parallel to the picture plane, to their essentials for an austere, monumental effect. He painted for 5 successive autumns in Algoma and Lake Superior (1917-22), in the Rockies from 1924 on, and in the Arctic in 1930. As artist-in-residence at Darmouth Coll, NH, he moved progressively through drawing into nonobjective art. In Santa Fe, NM, he worked with Dr Emil Bisttram, leader of the Transcendental Group of Painters, which Harris also helped found in 1939. His Vancouver work (1940-70) continued to explore abstraction inspired by the rhythms of nature. Harris's belief in theosophy is intimately linked to his development as a nonobjective artist. Through abstract paintings, such as Abstract Painting No 20, many of which use forms from landscape, he sought to portray a binding and healing conception of the universe - to make the sublime visual. His paintings have been criticized as being cold, but in fact they reflect the depth of his spiritual involvement. His world view makes him unique among Canadian painters, although his philosophy kept him aloof from spontaneously created art - a crucial factor in later painters' abstraction. Nevertheless, his landscape paintings, such as Lake and Mountains (1927-28) and some of his abstractions, are among the icons of Canadian art.
In his own lifetime Harris was the subject of 2 retrospectives, in 1948 and 1963. In 1978 the Art Gallery of Ontario held an exhibition, Urban Scenes and Wilderness Landscapes, 1906-1930. In 1982-83 a national travelling exhibition of his drawings was held. The bulk of his work is found in the National Gallery of Canada, Art Gallery of Ontario, and the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, Ont. In Nov 1987, a 1929 sketch for Mountains in Snow: Rocky Mountain Paintings, No. VII sold for $150 000, a record for a Canadian sketch. In the spring of 1999, a Lawren Harris canvas, Lake Superior III, was sold for $960 000 plus the buyer's premium of 10%, setting a record for the sale of a Canadian painting.
B. Harris and R.G.P. Colgrove, eds, Lawren Harris (1969); Joan Murray and Robert Fulford, The Beginning of Vision (1982).