Artwork by Lawren Stewart Harris,  Snow-Covered Trees

Lawren Harris
Snow-Covered Trees

a signed inscription by A.J. Casson reads “This is an original by Lawren Harris Sr. 1929” within the lower margin
5.5 x 4.5 ins ( 14 x 11.4 cms ) ( subject )

Auction Estimate: $18,000.00$15,000.00 - $18,000.00

Price Realized $50,600.00
Sale date: May 25th 2017

Peter Ohler Fine Arts Ltd., Vancouver
Private Collection, Vancouver
David P. Silcox, The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson, Toronto, 2003, pages 18 and 294-95
Nils Ohlsen, “This Is What We Want To Do With Canada – Reflections of Scandinavian Landscape Painting in the Work of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven,” Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, London, 2011, page 49
In January, 1913, Lawren Harris and J.E.H. MacDonald, recent friends and frequent sketching partners, travelled to the Albright Knox Museum in Buffalo, New York to view the Exhibition of Contemporary Scandinavian Art. The show inspired the pair, Harris and MacDonald moved not only by the subject matter, the depictions providing a distinct view of the Northern European countries’ terrain, but also the handling and stylization within the landscapes. Of the paintings included in the exhibition, parallels (or “correspondence”, as described by MacDonald) can be perceived between the handing of the snow-laden trees in Gustav Vjæstad’s “Vintermånsken” (Winter Moonlight) and the trees we find as a focus in Lawren Harris’ work in the following years.

In 1915’s “Snow II” (Collection of the National Gallery of Canada), three masses of large trees populate the foreground in soft shadow, partially screening the sunlit far shore of the background lake. The boughs are weighed heavily by the bluish snow, allowing only glimpses of the foliage beneath, the trees’ overall shapes softened by the precipitation. “Winter Sunrise”, the 1918 canvas in the collection of the MacKenzie Art Gallery provides a focus of three large coniferous trees, Harris presenting them in a more triangular shape, the snowy the branches forced downward with gravity’s pull.

This gouache by Harris possesses strong aspects of Harris’ continued stylization of the Canadian wilderness toward his eventual arrival in abstraction. The three trees, their bases huddled together, are completely cloaked in heavy snow, the bluish white layers smoothing the three into tight cones. While the tree on the right points sharply toward the sky, the other two curve slightly, further indication of the weight of the thick blankets. The painter’s low, curving horizon ensures an upward focus upon the three trees, set in front of a massive sky. Long, finger-like clouds stretch across the composition, reminiscent of many of the painter’s handling found in his later depictions of Canada’s west and far north.

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Lawren Stewart Harris
(1885 - 1970) Group of Seven, Canadian Group of Painters

Lawren Harris was born in Brantford, Ontario and at the age of 19 went to Berlin for academic training. His first two years included study in pencil, charcoal and watercolours. He took instruction in the studio mornings, out-of-doors sketching in the slums of Berlin afternoons, and sketching figures in the studio evenings in watercolour and drawing media. His last two years were spent in the study of portraits and figures in oils. Two of his teachers were Mr. Wille and Mr. Schlabitz. Schlabitz accompanied him in the summer on a walking tour of the Austrian Tyrol where Harris did some sketching. After his study in Germany Harris travelled in Palestine and Arabia with Norman Duncan where he did illustrations. He then visited lumber camps in Minnesota where he made illustrations for Harper’s magazine.

By 1910 Harris was back in Toronto where he saw everything with fresh eyes. His work had more vigour and sensitivity to colour and form. His first studio was located over Giles grocery store, north of Bloor and Yonge Streets. His attraction for the poorer areas of town gained him the reputation of socialist painter. His “house portraits” brought a storm of criticism against him. In Toronto the Arts and Letters Club had been formed only two years before Harris’ return and it was not long before he was an active member. It was at the Arts and Letters Club that Harris first saw the attractive sketches of J.E.H. MacDonald in 1911. Harris and MacDonald became good friends and shared an appreciation of the arts in depth. They visited Buffalo together in January of 1913 to see the exhibition of Scandinavian art which had been reviewed in art magazines. This exhibition made a deep impression on both artists. Harris took sketching trips with MacDonald in 1912 at Mattawa and Timiskaming and in 1913 they went to the Laurentians. Harris met other artists at the Arts and Letters Club. Many of them like MacDonald were working for the Grip Engraving Company as commercial artists.

In 1914 Harris and Dr. James MacCallum conceived the idea of building a studio building which could accommodate Canadian artists of ability who could devote their full attentions to painting, free from the pressures of commercialism. Many Canadian artists were drifting south to the U.S. and it was Harris’ and MacCallum’s hope that such a plan would prevent the loss of all of Canada’s most talented painters. Harris was well off through his connection with Massey-Harris (his grandfather was a founder of the firm) and so was Dr. MacCallum. They realized their plan and the Studio Building was erected on Severn Street in Toronto.

Harris became the driving force behind the Group of Seven. A.Y. Jackson claimed: "Without Harris there would have been no Group of Seven. He provided the stimulus; it was he who encouraged us always to take the bolder course, to find new trails." By 1918 Lawren Harris had travelled to the Algoma region in the company of MacDonald and Johnston. In 1920 they held an exhibition at the Art Museum of Toronto (Art Gallery of Ontario). Harris wrote “The group of seven artists whose pictures are here exhibited have for several years held a like vision concerning art in Canada. They are all imbued with the idea that an art must grow and flower in the land before the country will be a real home for its people…” Harris made his first trip to the North Shore of Lake Superior in 1921.

His search for a deeper spiritual meaning eventually took him to the stark landscapes of the far north. By the late 1920s the artist's work strove to capture the spiritual essence of the bold landforms of the Rockies and the Arctic. Throughout the ensuing decade Harris continued to simplify and abstract his landscapes until his subjects became non-representational. Lawren Harris worked as a member of the Transcendental Group of Painters in Santa Fe, New Mexico for two years, returning to Canada in 1940 and settling in Vancouver for the remainder of his lifetime.

Source: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume II”, compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1979