Artwork by Lawren Stewart Harris,  Quiet Lake (Northern Painting 12), circa 1926-1928

Lawren Harris
Quiet Lake (Northern Painting 12), circa 1926-1928

oil on canvas
inscribed “Quiet Lake/Lawren Harris/Northern Painting XII 34 x 40” on a label on the reverse
34 x 40 ins ( 86.4 x 101.6 cms )

Auction Estimate: $3,000,000.00$2,000,000.00 - $3,000,000.00

Price Realized $2,160,000.00
Sale date: June 8th 2023

The Artist, until at least 1940
Private Collection, Toronto
Acquired by the present Private Collection, December 1970
“Collector’s Canada: Selections from a Toronto Private Collection”, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, travelling to Musée du Québec, Quebec City; Vancouver Art Gallery; Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, 14 May 1988‒7 May 1989, no. 62 as circa 1923
“Annual Group of Seven Dinner, featuring works by Lawren S. Harris”, York Club, Toronto, 18 February 1998
“Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver Art Gallery, travelling to the Glenbow Museum, Calgary; Art Gallery of Hamilton, 30 October 2015‒25 September 2016
“Highlights from ‘Embracing Canada’”, Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Montreal, 22 October‒5 November 2016, no. 18
“Pop Up Museum”, Canadian Friends of the Israel Museum, 21 August 2019
Bertram Brooker, ‘Canada’s Modern Art Movement’, “The Canadian Forum”, June 1926, page 278
Alice Mackay, ‘The Second Annual Exhibition of Canadian Art’, “Canadian Homes & Gardens”, IV:4, April 1927, reproduced page 32 as “Northern Lake”
‘Exhibition of Contemporary Canadian Art Has Resulted in Fine Picture Collection’, “Ottawa Citizen”, 12 January 1927
Doris Mills, “The paintings of Lawren Harris compiled by Mrs. Gordon Mills, July-Dec. 1936”, Library and Archives of the National Gallery of Canada, as Northern Paintings, Number 12, with drawing by Hans Jensen
Jeremy Adamson, “Lawren Harris: Urban Scenes and Wilderness Landscapes 1906-1930”, Toronto, 1978, pages 150, 165, 214 note 304 Dennis Reid, “Collector’s Canada Selections from a Toronto Private Collection”, Toronto, 1988, no. 62, reproduced page 61, as “circa” 1923 David Silcox, “The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson”, Toronto, 2003 and 2011, reproduced page 310, caption page 421, as “circa” 1923
Paul Duval, “Lawren Harris: Where the Universe Sings”, Toronto, 2011, page 212, reproduced page 213, caption page 410, as “circa” 1922
Ian Thom, et al., “Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver/London, 2015, reproduced page 128, caption page 201, as “circa” 1924

Lawren Harris and A.Y. Jackson first painted on Lake Superior in October 1921. They took the Algoma Central Railway from Sand Lake, Algoma north to Franz, where they caught the Canadian Pacific train travelling west to Rossport and Schreiber. Harris would return to paint and draw on the north shore of Lake Superior almost every October until 1928. His Lake Superior canvases range from depictions of the rocks, hills and bays and interior lakes to dramatic visions of the light over the vast body of water.

To better express his expanding vision of the landscape, in 1925 Harris began to paint on beaverboard panels that were approximately 12 x 15 inches (30.5 x 37.6 cm) rather than his earlier supports that measured approximately 10 1⁄2 x 13 1⁄2 inches (26.3 x 34.4 cm).
Harris frequently reinterpreted similar subjects, exploring in each work variant compositions in new pictorial languages. In May 1926 he presented a painting titled “Northern Lake” in the Group of Seven exhibition at the Art Gallery of Toronto. “Northern Lake” was worked up from a 12 x 15 inch oil sketch of 1925 now in the McMichael Canadian Art Collection (accession 1969.17.1). “Northern Lake” was one of the five Harris paintings included in the Canadian section of the Sesqui-Centennial exhibition in Philadelphia in the summer of 1926 (no. 1564, reproduced in the Philadelphia catalogue) where it was awarded a gold medal.

Jeremy Adamson, organizer of the major Harris retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1978, has argued that the medal was awarded to Harris’ canvas “Ontario Hill Town” (University College, Toronto), not “Northern Lake”, though two reviews of the Annual Exhibition of Canadian Art at the National Gallery in Ottawa in January 1927, where “Northern Lake” was subsequently exhibited hors catalogue, confirm that “Northern Lake” was indeed the gold prize winner.

“Quiet Lake” is a similar composition to “Northern Lake” though clearly an evolution from the earlier canvas. The title “Quiet Lake”, a very a‒ characteristic title, was given to this painting when it was catalogued by Doris Mills, a friend of Harris’ wife Bess, in 1936. Mills listed it among a group of canvases she identified as Northern Paintings, of which this was number 12, not among Harris’ Lake Superior paintings.

However, the site is identified in a related sketch titled by the artist “Above Coldwell Bay, North Shore, Lake Superior” (sold Sotheby Parke Bernet (Canada), Toronto, 5 November 1979, lot 156). The lake depicted here was first painted by Harris prior to 1925, as there is an oil sketch of this same lake on a smaller panel (sold Sotheby’s Canada, Toronto, 3 December 1997, lot 155). However “Quiet Lake” was worked up from a panel of 1925 measuring 12 x 15 inches and titled by the artist “Northern Lake, Ontario, October”.

In both “Quiet Lake” and “Northern Lake” the point of view is determined by the foreground ‘ledge’. The lake opens up in the middle distance and is framed by the curves of the surrounding hills. In “Northern Lake” the hills rise left and right with the cold blue light of the sky glowing in the centre distance, reflecting on the water and casting shadows on the still lake. As Bertram Brooker wrote, the painting is “sombre, but none the less restful. In that sketch the distant rise upper left is painted in contrasting striations as on the hill upper right, whereas in the canvas “Quiet Lake” the yellow covers the entire slope.

There are similarities and differences between “Northern Lake” and “Quiet Lake”. In “Quiet Lake” Harris heightened the tonal contrasts, painting the autumn grasses and foliage in a bright, mustard palette. The silhouettes of the reflections in the quiet lake create an abstract pattern, as solid as the foreground rock, and are surrounded by the pale green trees lower right and dark green trees centre left. In contrast to “Northern Lake”, the hills are less symmetrical and the interplay of the dominant forms creates a less restful and more dynamic image. The eye follows the dominant yellow from lower right to upper left while the left shore juts into the open centre linking to the dark hill upper right.

To date it has been impossible to identify “Quiet Lake” with any canvas Harris exhibited in the 1920s. It clearly developed out of and postdates “Northern Lake” of 1926.

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

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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