Artwork by Lawren Stewart Harris,  Interior of Newfoundland (Hills-Newfoundland) (1921)

Lawren Harris
Interior of Newfoundland (Hills-Newfoundland) (1921)

oil on panel
signed lower right; signed, titled and inscribed “32” and “$450” on a label on the reverse
10.5 x 13.75 ins ( 26.7 x 34.9 cms )

Auction Estimate: $70,000.00$50,000.00 - $70,000.00

Price Realized $72,000.00
Sale date: December 1st 2022

Laing Galleries, Toronto (Acquired 21 November 1960 for $400)
The Estate of Theodosia Dawes Bond Thornton, Montreal
Heffel Fine Art, auction, Toronto, 22 November 2012, lot 153
Private Collection
Theodosia Dawes Bond Thornton, “Personal Art Collection Catalogue”, reproduced
The maritime provinces were appealing to Lawren Harris, who had a deep respect for nature and was eager to explore the wilderness beyond his native Toronto. It is known that as early as 1908, Lawren Harris began making regular sketching trips to different locales throughout eastern Canada.

In the early spring of 1921, the artist went on a sketching trip to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Just as he had been doing in Toronto, Harris painted many houses, particularly of the working class. The artist's Newfoundland subjects were more varied, depicting both the settlements and the sweeping landscape. Harris found a warmth to the small communities he encountered on his trip. The people of Newfoundland have a strong social structure, surviving on fishing and sealing within the vast and harsh environment of the province. Their setting is dramatic, as reflected in the expansive and serene atmosphere of this oil. Harris’s Newfoundland paintings are rare, as he did not return to the province on another extensive painting trip. Harris used some of the scenes from this trip to illustrate his only book of poetry, “Contrasts”, published in 1922.

During the summer of 1930, Harris went to Métis, Quebec, followed by Sydney, Nova Scotia. Together with A.Y. Jackson, Harris embarked on the ship Beothic, which left from Sydney sailing to Newfoundland, Labrador and then along the Canadian Arctic coast until reaching Greenland. The ship left on August 1st and returned only on September 27; the two artists returned with many sketches and renewed inspiration.

“Interior of Newfoundland (Hills‒Newfoundland)” depicts the expansive hills of Newfoundland in a patchwork of warm greens. The mossy land is contrasted with the rich purple in the rocky horizon line and pastel blue sky. This oil sketch possesses strong aspects of Harris’ continued stylization of the Canadian wilderness toward his eventual arrival in abstraction. His early compositions of winter scenes were more decorative and impressionistic, followed by the cleaner lines of his mountainscapes and Arctic peaks, which then followed a logical development to embrace abstraction.

Harris was the only member of the Group of Seven to align himself with European and American forms of Modernism. He had always been deeply interested in developments in modern art. Although he studied in Europe and was solidly based in its painting traditions, Harris felt that the realities of the Canadian landscape required something different—something less academic than the British style and more substantial than that of the French impressionists. Around 1915, he took an interest in modern Scandinavian artists such as Gustav Fjestad, who combined realism with a strong sense of design. In 1926, Harris represented Canada in the International Exhibition of Modern Art organized by the Société Anonyme (of which he was a member) and shown at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. He was also instrumental in bringing the show to Toronto in 1927.

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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