Artwork by Lawren Stewart Harris,  Algoma

Lawren Harris

graphite on paper
3.75 x 5 ins ( 9.5 x 12.7 cms )

Auction Estimate: $20,000.00$15,000.00 - $20,000.00

Price Realized $25,960.00
Sale date: May 28th 2019

Roberts Gallery, Toronto
Private Collection, Ontario
Heffel Fine Art, auction, Toronto, May 2, 2002, lot 8 as “Algonquin #2”
Private Collection, Toronto
Bess Harris and R.G.P. Colgrove, Lawren Harris, Toronto, 1969, page 45, reproduced page 40 as “Algonquin” (1912)
Joan Murray and Robert Fulford, The Beginning of Vision / The Drawings of Lawren Harris, Toronto/Vancouver, 1982, page 29
The Paintings of Lawren Harris Compiled by Mrs. Gordon Mills July- Dec. 1936, Algoma Sketches (typescript, Library and Archives of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa)
Lawren Harris first travelled to Algoma with Dr. James MacCallum, patron of Tom Thomson and co-financier of the Studio Building, in May 1918. Enchanted by what he encountered, Harris returned in the fall with fellow artists J.E.H. MacDonald and Frank Johnston. The various members of the future Group of Seven would return to Algoma over the next three years. Harris recounts that they “found Algoma a rugged, wild land packed with an amazing variety of subjects.... It was a veritable paradise for the creative adventure in paint.” The discovery of the Algoma territory came at a critical time for Harris; it would be a place for the artist to renew his practice following the deaths of Tom Thomson and of his brother who was killed in the war and Harris’ subsequent medical discharge from the army.

This intricate pencil sketch of an island on a lake is remarkably bold, the crisp shadows and silhouettes creating a veritable vision of the dramatic northern landscape. Joan Murray writes that, in this region, “...[Harris] saw a new kind of landscape – breathtakingly monumental, profoundly impressive to his spirit. His art, as a result, changed fundamentally.”

Rare for Harris, the subject was one he returned to on multiple occasions, the stylized island appearing in several works across a multitude of media beginning with the oil sketch “Algoma (Algoma Sketch 48)” of 1919-20 (Consignor Canadian Fine Art, 31 May 2016, lot 36) and the canvas “Island, MacCallum Lake” of 1921 (Vancouver Art Gallery). He subsequently reworked the composition in the 1924 canvas “Northern Island, Northern Painting XXV” of 1924 (Joyner Fine Art, Toronto, 28- 29 November 1989, lot 109) and in “Northern Island” of 1924 (Museum
of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Steve Martin and Anne Stringfield). An additional canvas, “Island, Northern Painting XXI” was catalogued by Doris Mills as unfinished and the billowing clouds of our drawing are closest to this last work. The subject clearly retained the artist’s interest as a canvas titled “Island in Algoma” of 1960-61 was included in Harris’ 1963 Retrospective Exhibition.

This work was previously misidentified as depicting a scene in Algonquin from 1912.

We extend our thanks to Charles Hill, Canadian art historian, former Curator of Canadian Art with the National Gallery of Canada and author of “The Group of Seven - Art for a Nation”, for his assistance in researching this artwork.

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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