Artwork by Lawren Stewart Harris,  Arctic Tent, Pangnirtung, Baffin Island

Lawren Harris
Arctic Tent, Pangnirtung, Baffin Island

graphite on paper
with artist’s notations; inscribed “293” on the reverse; titled on a gallery label on the reverse
7 x 9.5 ins ( 17.8 x 24.1 cms ) ( sight )

Auction Estimate: $8,000.00$6,000.00 - $8,000.00

Price Realized $20,400.00
Sale date: June 9th 2021

Estate of the artist
Lawren P. Harris, Jr.
Walter Klinkhoff Gallery, Montreal
Sotheby Park Bernet (auction), Toronto, May 27-28, 1980, Lot 48
Private Collection, Toronto
Joan Murray & Robert Fulford, The Beginning of Vision: The Drawings of Lawren S. Harris, Toronto, 1982, page 26
Steve Martin, Cynthia Burlingham and Andrew Hunter, The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris, Toronto/Los Angeles, 2015, pages 83-85
In 1930 Lawren Harris and A.Y. Jackson boarded the Royal Canadian Mounted Police supply ship and ice breaker, the S.S. Beothic, for its 9,000-mile expedition to the remote communities of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. This two-month trip allowed the artists to visit various sites in the Arctic, with a few excursions to sketch on land. For Harris, the Arctic was the epitome of the north. The allure of the landscape provided infinite inspiration. As Cynthia Burlingham notes, “The more than thirty oil sketches and six canvases that he created from this voyage marked a very influential time in his painting career.”

While roaming the land on their excursions from the Beothic, Harris brought his sketchbooks to document his environs. The drawings that Harris executed on this trip reflect the artist’s technical process of direct observation, as much as the development of “a more symbolic mode of representation”. Burlingham writes: “Harris’s drawings were central to his process of simplifying nature ‘to its fundamental and purest form’ as they captured elements of an actual place that were later used to create the essence of place.” Harris referred to these pencil drawings as ‘notes’ and would annotate the drawings with details regarding colour, light and form - observations to inform his later compositions.

The location of this sketch is Pangnirtung, Baffin Island, which would have been visited within the last third of their trip on the Beothic. The subject that captured Harris’s attention on this excursion was the view of an Inuit tent, constructed of animal skins, tarpaulin and stones. Harris has rendered with broad strokes and shading, the stark beauty of the brutal landscape - the austerity of the tent erected on Baffin Island’s rocky terrain amidst the vastness of the mountains. Harris produced a number of preparatory drawings from this trip that focus on an Inuit tent, all included in what is known as “Sketchbook 7”, while only three oil sketches of an Inuit tent within the landscape were later painted. Joan Murray remarks that “Harris was not preparing these drawings for viewing by the public; he was working his way toward paintings. His drawings take us some distance into the artistic life of Lawren S. Harris. In that way they resemble the diary entries of a writer which later provide the material for novels or poems.”

This tent, representing the existence of humanity within the haunting Arctic landscape was significant to Harris. He chose to display the three oil sketches depicting the Inuit tent in the National Gallery of Canada’s 1930 exhibition of he and Jackson’s works from their Arctic voyage. The artworks created from this influential trip marked a turning point for Harris in his career, pointing the way to abstraction.

We extend our thanks to Alec Blair, Director & Lead Researcher of the Lawren S. Harris Inventory Project, 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