Artwork by Lawren Stewart Harris,  Red House, Barrie, 1924

Lawren Harris
Red House, Barrie, 1924

signed with initials lower right (beneath the mat)
6 x 7 ins ( 15.2 x 17.8 cms ) ( sheet )

Auction Estimate: $22,000.00$18,000.00 - $22,000.00

Price Realized $66,000.00
Sale date: June 8th 2023

J. Morris Gallery, Toronto, 1972
Private Collection
Paul Duval, “Lawren Harris: Where the Universe Sings”, Toronto, 2011, page 26
Jeremy Adamson, “Urban Scenes and Wilderness Landscapes, 1906-1930”, Toronto, 1978, page 25
In 1910 Lawren Harris returned to Toronto after completing his artistic training in Berlin and travelling in the Middle East. His first studio was located above Giles grocery store, north of Bloor and Yonge Streets. He now saw his hometown with a new perspective. His colourful “house portraits” were considered out of the ordinary and even controversial at the time. Paul Duval writes that “[Harris] had been fascinated with drawing houses since his teenage years when he first showed an interest in becoming an artist. “I suppose I just liked the shapes, the architecture of different houses and their colour,” Harris later recalled of his early fascination with the subject.

From 1910 to 1918, Harris painted the buildings and streets of Toronto. In 1913, an exhibition of modern Scandinavian painting at the Albright Gallery in Buffalo had a profound effect upon him, due to its bold expression of the raw northern landscape. After this, the artist began to broaden his subject matter to include the landscape that surrounded the urban and suburban houses. The early 1920s, arguably the most important years of Harris’ career, brought much critical success and changes to his artistic output.

Author Jeremy Adamson remarked that in the period from 1919 to 1921, Harris exhibited more house paintings than any other theme. In the 1925 Rous & Mann portfolio, Canadian Drawings by Members of the Group of Seven, two of the four images by Harris were of Toronto street scenes, indicating the importance of this imagery to the artist. His depictions of houses and urban scenes continued alongside his landscape paintings during this key period in the early 1920s as well as intermittently throughout the next two decades. Harris painted urban scenes in locations such as Hamilton, Grimsby Park, Glace Bay, Halifax, and in this case, Barrie.

In 1924’s “Red House, Barrie”, a large pine tree, weighed heavily by glistening snow, occupies the foreground and partially covers a red house. Only glimpses of the foliage is visible on the boughs, which cast blue shadows onto the house and snow-covered ground. This gouache by Harris possesses strong aspects of Harris’ continued stylization of the Canadian wilderness toward his eventual arrival in abstraction. The trees in the centre and background are blanketed in heavy snow, creating sinuous cloud-like forms in blue and white. “Red House, Barrie” also embodies the artist’s fascination with light’s effect on colour and his experimentation with colour scheme. Contrasting with the palette of blue and white snow, the bright red facade and yellow trim of the house exemplify Harris’ use of bold colour that was not traditionally witnessed in earlier palettes of Canadian painting.

The process that Harris and his Group of Seven colleagues developed was to paint or draw en plein air and later develop the preliminary work into a canvas. “Red House, Barrie” is a preparatory work for a major 1924 canvas entitled “Pine Tree, Red House, Winter, City Painting II”. There are only minor differences between the gouache and the oil version: Harris added one pine bough to the tree and changed the colour of the house trim from yellow to mint green.

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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